Oregon is consistently growing; local population expansion being coupled with an influx of new residents. Undoubtedly the communities in the state have been strengthened by these changes, demographic expansion being coupled with tremendous economic opportunities that provide tax revenue and thousands of tangential jobs. Yet, Oregon’s growth has not been perfect. A deeper analysis reveals there are a series of complex weaknesses that are not so easy to address.
On the surface Oregon seems to be doing well. Unemployment is low, income statewide continues to grow, and the population is expanding. Major companies such as Columbia Sportswear, Intel, and Nike have created thousands of jobs, their employees in turn providing business to other local companies. As they have grown, so have opportunities statewide. Even in the Forest Grove area signs of this expansion are visible with suburbs expanding both to the north and south of campus. There is dynamism in the air. Yet, despite this period of relative prosperity, there are serious issues must be addressed.
It must be assured that, even with all of this growth, existing local residents are not left behind. A combination of zoning laws, influx of residents from more expensive areas, and time constraints in response to quick changes has ensured that housing prices, particular in the Portland metropolitan area, have soared. This has left low-income and middle-class communities behind as they are priced out of neighborhoods and towns they’ve inhabited for generations. Although increasing property values may seem like a benefit for most property owners, these same individuals will find themselves forced to pay higher prices on future homes should they decide to move, negating any serious profit. This is coupled with renters who find themselves priced out of their neighborhoods.
Yet, the main alternatives proposed, such as eliminating the urban growth boundary or statewide rent control each have their own downsides. The sprawl that would accompany easing zoning laws may provide housing, but involves sacrificing certain principles Oregonians take for granted. Rent control, while certainly beneficial for existing tenants, could artificially depress prices and lead to an even more severe housing shortage. The only way to solve this problem is increasing the supply of homes.
Certainly, several promising steps have been taken or proposed. Limiting the ability of local governments to require single-family lots has been suggested and would be a boon to creating more affordable housing. Furthermore, last November voters approved Measure 102 which eases up certain aspects of laws regarding the construction of public housing. Making it easier for new housing units to be created will lower prices and help to solve this pressing issue.
In the coming years, assuming growth patterns hold, Oregon is going to have to make several hard decisions regarding housing. How will it be ensured existing communities are not left behind by rising prices? Are strong zoning laws to be maintained, protecting local industries such as wine and agriculture, or will they be eased in order to ensure more affordable and abundant housing? Will new rent control policies have unforeseen negative consequences? In short, the state is going to have to decide whether to sacrifice affordable housing in the name of long-term stability or to seek to solve the problem of rising prices through policies that could inadvertently backfire.