For decades, Portland was one of the most affordable cities on the West Coast. But in the past few years, its popularity soared as its culture, climate and livability made it a darling in national and international media.
The attention contributed to population growth that’s busting the city’s infrastructure at its seams. As the housing supply runs dry, once-affordable neighborhoods are now out of reach for many residents and even the suburbs and nearby rural areas don’t have enough homes to meet the demand.
The market has responded. The average rent overall in Portland has increased by almost $600 in the past five years, from $1,298 a month in July 2011 to a whopping $1,860 a month in July 2016, according to Zillow. Vancouver, Washington, which has historically been a more affordable option near Portland, saw a spike of nearly $500 in that same time frame, from $1,179 to $1,560.
Unlike some other cities where employers raise wages to attract workers, salaries in the Portland metro area haven’t changed much. Among renters, incomes have remained virtually the same between 2000 and 2013, hovering at around $36,000 per household, according to the 2015 Portland State of Housing report.
For people who aren’t white, the reality is even worse. While white people in Portland saw their incomes rise between 2000 and 2013 by a few thousand dollars, African Americans lost about $10,000 in annual wages and now make less than $30,000 a year on average. Asians, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and Native Americans have also seen their incomes drop. Native Americans on average now make just over $20,000 a year – barely minimum wage.
The reality is that many people in the metro area are at risk of becoming homeless based purely on economics.
The Journal of Public Affairs studied 338 metropolitan areas and found that increased rent is consistently linked to increased homelessness. Specifically, the study determined that for every $100 increase in median monthly rent, homelessness increased by an average of 15 percent.
The last one-night homeless count in January 2015 found 5,400 homeless people sleeping outside, in shelters or transitional housing in Multnomah County. The next count is in January 2017 and homeless advocates worry that number could rise.
Shelter staff say about a quarter of the people who stay at Portland’s emergency shelters have never been homeless before. Virtually all of the shelters in the metro area are at capacity and for many people who work, like Heather Starr, showing up early to wait for a bed isn’t possible.
Affordable housing options are limited and the area is not building enough housing to get anywhere close to the demand.
If things continue this way, Portland metro area residents should expect to see more homeless people on the streets as more people move here, rents rise and wages stay the same.
The threat of homelessness is looming over many of the area’s residents now. Nearly half of the metro area’s workforce is at risk of becoming homeless if they rent.
Interactive: Can you pay the rent? Click the arrows to see if you could afford an apartment on a $9.75/hr or $15/hr wage.