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Thursday, June 22, 2006

PDC math: Property values

The recent Portland city auditor's report on the Portland Development Commission revealed some pretty impressive-looking numbers concerning the effects of urban renewal districts on property tax values within them. Examining five such districts in Portland over the period 1996 to 2004, the auditor, using county tax data, charted a property value increase of more than 138%. Citywide, the eight-year increase was much lower (though still nice), at 56%, and in three selected "control areas" chosen for comparison -- areas similar to the urban renewal districts, but without PDC handouts -- the increase was 64%.

Not all urban renewal areas are equal, of course, and the gains were more pronounced in some of the subsidized areas than in others. Here's the tale of the tape -- real property values in 1996, in 2004, and the percentage increase, in the five areas studied. "MM" means millions:

Airport Way: $409MM in 1996; $1,057MM in 2004; a 158% increase
Central Eastside: $496MM, $791MM, 59%
Downtown/Waterfront: $644MM, $1,918MM, 198%
Convention Center: $934MM, $1,734MM, 86%
River District: $408MM, $1,395MM, 242%
Total of five districts: $2,891MM, $6,895MM, 138.5%

All told, there was about a $4 billion increase in property values in the five districts over the eight-year period. The PDC's "investment" in the areas over that time was estimated to be around $400 million. That's 10 bucks of property value increase for every dollar PDC says it spent.

Where did the value increase come from, besides the PDC? Private investors put in lots of dough (much of it borrowed, no doubt), and there was plenty of raw appreciation when the real estate markets in the districts got hot (some of them did, at least). Did the private property owners in these areas put up another $3.6 billion beyond the PDC's $400 million? I suspect they put in less than that, and the difference between the $4 billion value increase and the private investment, whatever it was, was pure profit for some private party or another. You know me -- I figure it all went to Arlington Club dues.

What about the rest of us schmoes out here? Was the property value increase good for the taxpayers? It's a pretty hazy picture, but some very rough calculations on the back of an envelope indicate that it's been a good, but perhaps not great, deal for taxpayers in the city and county.

Here's what's on that envelope. It's math, people, and very crude math at that. If a guy on the no. 9 bus asked me what I thought, here's what I'd be able to tell him by the time we turned left on 24th:

Although real property values may have gone up by $4 billion, that's not $4 billion of additional tax base. Under state Ballot Measures 5, 50, and the like, even when there's big construction on a given parcel of land, property values are multiplied by a "changed property ratio" (CPR) to make sure that they aren't taxed more heavily than nearby properties that haven't been updated recently. It's pure conjecture on my part how much the $4 billion gets cut back because of this rule -- maybe readers can help me out here -- but let's say that shaves the $4 billion of value increase down to $3 billion of tax base. I suspect the ratio knocks it down to less than that, but let's give urban renewal the benefit of the doubt, for argument's sake.

If property taxes are 2% on that $3 billion of new tax base, all taxing jurisdictions combined will net $60MM of new revenue every year. The present value of all that future tax (discounted at 5%) is $1.2 billion, which makes the PDC's $400MM outlay look pretty smart.

But to this, a number of caveats must be added. First, although I have assumed that all taxing authorities combined will get $60MM a year, the City of Portland gets only a portion of that -- maybe 45% or so? Which would cut the city's take down to a present value of $540MM. Still, a profit of 35% on a risky investment of $400MM is a nice return.

Don't forget, though, that with the city's tax increment financing of public infrastructure in these districts, the extra taxes collected from the shiny new and improved properties must be used to pay off bonds for many years -- they don't go to essential services in the meantime. If the city has to wait 10 years to start collecting taxes that can be used to pay for city services, that cuts their present value considerably. Instead of $540MM, the present value is $332MM, which is a losing proposition for the taxpayers, who, remember, have already shelled out $400MM.

Notice, too, that the foregoing ciphering gives the PDC credit for the entire increase in property values in the five districts. If just the increase over the citywide appreciation rate is taken into account, the PDC's efforts didn't cause a $4 billion increase in values -- it's more like $2.4 billion. (In other words, the $2,891MM in value would have grown to $4,510MM all on its own, if it had merely appreciated at the same rate as other Portland real estate.) Even ignoring the bond obligations, that would throw off about $48MM a year in property taxes to all jurisdictions -- a present value of $960MM, of which the city's 45% would be $432MM. Delayed 10 years, it's worth only $265MM; delayed 20 years, only $163MM.

So is the city getting its money's worth from urban renewal, from a property tax standpoint? I'd say it's a close call; maybe it's a good deal, but you could argue with that.

And I wish somebody would argue with me. I've been following PDC doings for nearly four years, and as far as I can tell, few, if any, commentators are tackling the obvious question of whether the urban renewal adventure is panning out. Come on, local media, do a little arithmetic for us! As for the PDC, they either don't have reliable measures of their own success or failure, or they're keeping them under wraps. Certainly the auditor couldn't wrestle a fair assessment out of them.

For the private developers, on the other hand, it looks like a big win. Some of them are no doubt making out like bandits. Just look at all those cranes. Condo after condo, the good and (mostly) the bad. They're swarming, people, and they're taking our tax nectar back to their busy little construction hives.

Comments (25)

And of course, I omit entirely any consideration of tax abatements for developers, of which there have been quite a few, as I understand it...

Jack: If the city has to wait 10 years
1. Isn't it more like 15 years?

2. What about the city's expenses providing services to these areas over that 10-15 year time period? Is it close to the city wide average where, city services expenditure more or less equal income? If so then there is a big expenditure deficit being built up over the years before the tax payments start going to the city coffers. Considering that the expenses are in close in dollars and the payments far in the future, will it ever come close to break even?


Good news! I just heard one of our incumbent state legislators on KXL hawking 50-year mortgage loans. Wow. All the PDC and City have to do now is a big re-fi to reduce the monthly debt service expense and - poof! - there goes any UR-driven shortfall. Easy as pi.

Thanks Jack for investing the time & attention.

Dumb overworked cliche time: you don't know what you don't know.

Will a lack of posting on this by PDC constitute "acceptance" of your argument?

If you take the first number (which is middle of the pack), 409M to 1057M over 8 years is a 12% per year return. I think that is in line with what all real estate (PDC investment or not) in the area has returned.

In addition, these appraisals are always funny money (look at what PDC did with the old Police station on SW Oak.) Viz, they can make the appraisal say whatever they want, worth is only established when it is sold.

You're right about the tax bonds which also have to be paid out of the proceeds of taxes, so I think this is just at best a breakeven deal for taxpayers (and a great boon for the select list of developers.)

Now if you include the effect of NOT paying for streets, police and infrastructure for everyone outside of these districts (aka those of us who live in houses and pay normal prop taxes), this is an insult.

Jack, I sent you some documents under separate cover, that show what Steve is talking about, the City has "deferred" maintenance to the tune of $150 million annually, by their own fiancial documents, this has accumulated to about half of the city assets or a little over $2 Billion in "burned" asset. This is a liablity that all taxpayers are silently paying, as someday the piper will have to be paid for all that mismangement and neglect, and it will be in tax surcharges. This dwarfs the fianancial "gains".

Jack, good beginning of the analysis-thanks.

If PDC ever gets around to do the state required audits of URAs, I will be skeptical of the numbers based on how they developed the recent so-called life cycle costs for the tram. Leaving out financing, land costs, etc. for the tram, and giving a 50 year life to the tram profoundly changes the cost analysis.

Your analysis demonstrates that their are several factors of unknowns that are very important to know to really understand if there are benefits to Urban Renewal on a financial basis.

The biggest factor is "what would be developed anyway without urban renewal". And additionally the time factor of the urban renewal areas which most have succeeded a 20 year period. Pay back hasn't been occuring after 10 years.

Jerry has put his finger on the real problem with UR. I think that "What would be developed anyway without urban renewal" is called opportunity cost.

Another point - there is no profit to pay those Arlington Club dues until the property is sold. All these valuations are pretty meaningless until then.

If huge tax incentives are necessary to induce investment in a particular area, that means the investment would otherwise not pencil out -- or the developers would have done it.

Of course, I realize the SoWhat property owners were prevented from developing their property for years until they finally caught on to the game and "donated" property to the city... can you say "payoff," Jerseyites??? Or is there some other term for this?

I agree the initial analysis is excellent, but perhaps a better comparison would be a comparable city, if one can be found. As I mentioned before, when I did an analysis about 10 or 15 years ago of UR cities compared to non-UR cities, I found the non-UR places increasing property values faster. I regret that I can't find that analysis today.

Anyway, if we go back to the "opportunity cost" mentioned above, you can see that if a city is messing around with natural investment activities, it will be taking money from more productive or valuable assets and giving it to less-productive or valuable assets in the city, thus reducing the TOTAL VALUE of the city. That might be a better metric to look at then comparing neighborhoods.

All these valuations are pretty meaningless until then.

These developers sell the condos right away. And the rest of the appreciation is real wealth -- equity that can be borrowed against even if the property is not sold.

If huge tax incentives are necessary to induce investment in a particular area, that means the investment would otherwise not pencil out -- or the developers would have done it.

Not necessarily. Often we'll find development isn't happening because of the expectation of tax incentives in the future. In fact, deliberately letting land go underutilized can hasten government's "coming to the rescue" with tax incentives.

"Not necessarily. Often we'll find development isn't happening because of the expectation of tax incentives in the future."

That's circular reasoning. I think you are saying the same thing - the deal wouldn't work if there were no tax incentives, now or in the future.

I guess my complaint is why is the government playing property developer instead of letting the amrket it do its job? It gets so frustrating when we don't see tax dollars spent on boring things like sewers, schools and police protection.

However, bring out each commissioner's pet cause (Sam's tram and theater, Randy's PFDR, Erik's homeless housing for free and Saltzman's buddies at engineering firms) and we always seem to find money for the fun and sexy projects with a minimum of justification.

Steve -- You misunderstood Frank. What he is saying is that the simple existence and possibility of tax incentives can actually act as a **deterrent** to development without them. He is saying that the fact that a piece of land is not developed *may* not mean it is not worth developing, it *may* simply mean folks are holding out for the sweeter deal they have reason to expect will be available in the future.

Call it human nature or call it gaming the system, but don't be surprised it happens.

can you say "payoff," Jerseyites??? Or is there some other term for this?

We cawl it "bidness." But really, it's just a shakedown.

An example of what Jack pointed out is the Rose Garden transaction. Where Mr. Allen is none the worse for wear having borrowed on the Value, and then gone bankrupt. I would guess all of these various building projects are separate LLCs or such, so that the money and profits can be borrowed against the paper equity, but if it doesn't materialize the person will just take their money and run, similar to the 80's bank collapse issues.

re: my comments prior. Sorry, my mistake.

Interesting article in the Daily Journal of Commerce a couple of days ago...Homer Williams is proposing a new "Master Plan" for the rest of his property in the Pearl that will require a higher FAR (floor to area ratio) so he can build to more density. He basically argues if he doesn't get it, he'll take his marbles and go home.

Frank, as you so well know, North Macadam is the best, recent example that proves your point.

Over $1.5B of private investment was on the boards back in early 1990's for North Macadam, involving four projects. Thank Vera and the rest of the City Council for stopping this investment and saying "we, the city also want to play developer too and we'll throw in rezoning, increased density by six times, and we believe OHSU's threat to move to Hillsboro is valid". And then they threw in the "tax incentives" that you cite-tax abatements, transit oriented incentives, housing incentives, etc. The old "carrot stick" incentives.

And you can't fault the smart developers (a select few) playing the game to wait for the taxpayers to pay for a large percentage of the infrastructure that most other developers have to pay when they do their "little" projects.

Oh, how I long for "free enterprise".

Jerry makes a good point when he says you can't fault the smart, or well positioned, or whatever, developers who are always first off the post in this business.

He's right, blaming Homer is stupid. IMO Homer is a good business person doing a good, oops, excellent, job by his investors.

What is missing is the **countervailing** force in these negotiations -- the voice FOR us, the CITY'S investors -- the person who stands, head to head and smarts to smarts with Homer, and hammers out for us all the best deal, FOR us all.

It's not Homer's fault that person is "gone missing." "Never heard from" "Lost in Translation..."

What we are losing in this is the sensible, balanced, middle ground of citywide development -- where cranes in undeveloped lands would not mean no blacktop (or cops) in the rest of the city...

Jerry makes a good point when he says you can't fault the smart, or well positioned, or whatever, developers who are always first off the post in this business.

He's right, blaming Homer is stupid. IMO Homer is a good business person doing a good, oops, excellent, job by his investors.

What is missing is the **countervailing** force in these negotiations -- the voice FOR us, the CITY'S investors -- the person who stands, head to head and smarts to smarts with Homer, and hammers out for us all the best deal, FOR us all.

It's not Homer's fault that person is "gone missing." "Never heard from" "Lost in Translation..."

What we are losing in this is the sensible, balanced, middle ground of citywide development -- where cranes in undeveloped lands would not mean no blacktop (or cops) in the rest of the city...

I dunno; it seems to me that a developer who expects a municipality to "streamline" its process just to favor him, even when it becomes clear there is a public price to pay is ethically challenged. And there have been countervailing voices for the public interest-like Jerry's-that have not been heard.

There is a fine line between ethical and unethical behavior as there is between legal and illegal behavior. What is being done is probably legal, given most of the players are lawyers or have a team at the ready.

The problem is economic sustainability and the good of the common. One of my favorite movies is "You Can't Take it With You" an old classic, which interestingly enough shows that the same "Development" interests were alive and well and ripping up neighborhoods in the 30's.

I think what turned things around for the US, and kept us from going faciest like Germany and Italy, when the last time the division of wealth was as skewed as it is now, was the realization of the FDR class of folks, that the same lackey's they hired to screw the middle class out of the picture , would turn on them as well. Hitler and his crowd as well as Stalin, that elimiated the middle class eventually got around to getting rid of most of the upper class as well. This did not bode well for the economy of Russia, and Germany would have self-distructed after the pillaged wealth of the countries it invaded.

It was during that pre and post WWII era we reinvested in public education, and spread the wealth again for a more stable society.

I hope we have that same wisdom and reverse the trend that feeds Homer and his investors, because the other scenerio isn't very pretty.

Cynthis: I didn't mean to infer that some "developers" are necessarily being "ethical" in this city in their pursuit of the dollars. Government has been extremely lax in protecting the public interest when it is public dollars that is used to provide the "carrot stick".

Not reiterating the long list of "gimmie" tax dollars amounting to $32M of the 38M now being given to North Macadam in the proposed Amendment 8 to the NM Agreement, there is the great example of over $2M given to OHSU/North Macadam developers in just the form of reduced permit fees for the tram. Who else get this kind of treatment? We'll probably be surprised with the answer if we ever had an audit of the Bureau of Buildings.

There are so many "gifts" being given even beyond the "normal" backscratching that goes on in Portland

And remember OHSU has also joined the ranks of being a developer-beyond their mission statement

jC: I think there is too much presumption in the argument that just because lawyer are involved in something, it has to be legal. There is plenty of legal racketeering going on in this town and too little discussion about it. There is a line around the "solution space" prescribing the rule of law and there are lawyers in this town that are waaaaay on the other side of it.

Interesting analysis on how fascism develops. I have been noticing for years that too much the middle class in this town has elistist leanings which is really not in their best interest, when you look at history. This especially frustrates me when it applies to members of the press.

That's lawyers and proscribing..

Warren Buffet giving away all his fortune to charity this week after the sudden death of his wife, give me hope. Also Bill Gate's father gave the counterpoint to the "Death Tax" elimination people, that coupled with Buffet's condemnation of Legacy Fortunes vs if you earn it enjoy it, then give it back to society which facilitated you earning it. I liked the quote attributed to Buffet by his longtime aide on PBS last night, Keep enough in the family to help your kids do something, but not enough so they do nothing.


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William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 5
At this date last year: 3
Total run in 2017: 113
In 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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