Breaking news: Reality bites.
Willy Week goes on and on this week about the scarcity of apartments in Portland. The reporter's got lots of statistics and anecdotes, but there's something about the story that's less than convincing. It comes off sounding like whining from some of the many young, "creative," and foolish people who have moved to Portland with no money or legitimate job prospects and are now discovering that, golly, you can't get a nice place to rent in the middle of town for $500 a month:
In September, Zac Thayer, a 20-year-old punk-rock musician, started trolling Craigslist for a house or an apartment to share that would cost him no more than $500 a month. It took two months, including weeks spent sleeping on friends’ couches.
That is supposed to prove what, exactly? That Zac doesn't want to live in Parkrose or Oregon City? Our heart bleeds for him, but it is no surprise he'll have to have more than $500 a month to live where all the area's hippest stuff is.
"We got really frustrated," Bozanich says. "We’d draw out a map of different neighborhoods and just start bickering about just having to live farther out, and I would be like, 'I don’t want to spend money to live in a place I don’t really like.'"
Such as the real world, apparently.
The WW treatment is understandable. Without the 21-to-35-year-old set -- the people who regularly go to bars to hear local bands -- that paper would probably go under. And so of course, the journalists there are inclined, perhaps subconsciously, to portray that demographic group as victims.
But there's more going on here than that. The WW assessment of the situation seems suspiciously like another thinly veiled sermonette about the gajillion people who are moving here any minute now, and how we'd better wreck all the close-in neighborhoods with high-rise apartment bunkers to accommodate the future unemployed and baristas who will soon be arriving.
Folks, the population of the City of Portland increased by only about 2,100 people last year. During that time, there were hundreds of apartments added to the city's supply. Many owner-occupied houses were converted to rentals. Things are roughly in balance, if somewhat on the tight side.
Yes, it's gotten much more expensive to rent inside the city limits of Portland. And why's that? Nowhere mentioned in the story is the fact that landlords' expenses have shot up drastically over the last few years -- especially water and sewer bills and property taxes. Those get passed on to renters, which is why the $500 crash pad, or even the $800 apartment, ain't coming back. Nobody's going to build or operate cheap, or even middle-class, apartments in town without a massive government subsidy. And don't think that's not part of the sermonette -- that we need to give Winkler and Edlen and Homer and the rest of the Usual Suspects more public money. For "workforce housing." In a city that has no place for the "force" to work.
City commissioner Nick Fish certainly seems to be completely on board with the program:
"If we care about people having choices about where they live, if we don’t want to concentrate poverty on the edges of our city, then we need a range of housing choices in each neighborhood," says City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Housing Bureau. "We’re limiting people’s choices about where they can live and raise a family."
He makes it sound like a freedom march, with Dike Dame in the role of Martin Luther King. Hey, Nick, we'd like to raise our family in Dunthorpe, but funny thing, it's out of our price range. That's the way it works in most of the world -- you live where you can afford to live, and the rich folks don't let the poor folks get too close. But apparently, in the "spirit of equity" -- the new content-free sales pitch that goes hand-in-hand with "sustainable" -- we've got to achieve the impossible by mowing down some decent old buildings and slapping up some more particle board apartment bunkers. Oh, and having the city's taxpayers pay for it:
According to the Housing Bureau, the city since 2006 has paid $150 million to help add 4,500 units of affordable housing through construction and aid to renters making down payments when they buy a home.
Fish says the subsidized units go to households that make 60 percent or less of Portland’s median family income. That means a family of four that makes less than $43,200 would qualify. A single person needs to make less than $30,240.
And where does the subsidy money wind up? Buying nice new BMWs for our own little 1%. Who then toss some money into the campaign coffers of politicians like, well, Fish.
In any event, the facts that vacancies are down and rents are up are certainly noteworthy, but they're hardly as horrible a thing as the WW story suggests. As we found out back when we had only $500 a month for housing, you can't always get what you want. Some people have to live in Gladstone or the 'Couv.