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Monday, December 17, 2007

Who needs parks and 9-1-1 when you can have condos?

The Portland City Auditor's annual report on "city government performance" is out, and surprise, surprise, everything's great and everybody's happy. We won't spend time arguing with that today, but an alert reader points out an interesting chart from the report (page 8), which shows how much each city bureau spent per resident in the fiscal year 2006-2007, and how that amount has changed over the last five years (I assume that the "adj." means that the five-year change figures are adjusted for inflation):

PDC [Portland Development Commission]$300+80%
Fire & Rescue$209+6%
B.E.S. [Bureau of Environmental Services] $178 +5%
Transportation $173 +5%
Parks & Recreation $98 -4%
Water $68+6%
B.D.S. [Bureau of Development Services]$67 +12%
BHCD [Bureau of Housing and Community Development]$38 -3%
BOEC [Bureau of Emergency Communications] $22 -8%
Planning $12 -25%
OSD [Office of Sustainable Development]$10 +11%
TOTAL $1,513 +13%

Just look who's been getting the gravy over the last five years! The Portland Development Commission, up a whopping 80 percent; the Bureau of Development Services, up 12 percent; the Office of Sustainable Development, up 11 percent. Development, Development, Development. Indeed, the PDC money eruption is so huge, every other city bureau's growth in spending is below average! Meanwhile, spending on parks is down, spending on low-income housing is down, spending on emergency communications is down. The only bright spot, I guess, is the big decrease in the "planning" spending, which has obviously all been sucked up into planning a cozy retirement for Homer Williams.

If you don't think the City of Portland is off on a radical experiment with potentially dire financial consequences, you really need to stare at these numbers some more. Everything's all bright and shiny on the streetcar line, but the municipal government's financials are the picture of Dorian Gray.

Comments (14)

I don't know how they can expect to get anything done with "Planning" taking a 25 percent after-inflation hit. How will the Commissioners know when to go to the bathroom?

Note that "operating" spending does NOT include capital improvements.

Note that "operating" spending does NOT include capital improvements.

Yeah. But I think that story, given the deferred maintenance over the past fifteen years, is even worse.

Because this is a bureau by bureau report, it it not accurate to say that spending on low-income housing is down. We know that some chunk of PDC's spending, loans, etc. is on low-income housing projects. This is confirmed by a review of pages 58, 60, and 62-67. Significant PDC expenditures are on low to moderate income housing projects, so simply comparing PDC to BHCD on a line-by-line expenditure basis is not reflective of the City's spending on housing needs.

Some interesting things:

"Some bureau efforts and results are compared to data we gathered
from other similar cities: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas City,
Sacramento, and Seattle."
I wonder why those towns? There are other $500M cities like San Jose that would be of more interest since they have a lot of high-tech jobs. Needless to say, we are top of the heap for utility costs. Charlotte is the only one that is really a high-growth neighborhood since we are about 1/2 Seattle's size.

"We are independent of the Mayor, City
Council, and the City Bureaus and offices described in this report."
I think that is ironic enough without comment.

"In FY 2006-07, PDC invested $29 million in housing projects," - I thought their total busdget was somewheres around $250M NOT the $130M they mention in the paper. Still $29M out of $130M invested is kind of a low amount?

$688.1 in 2007 Public Indebtness vs $603 in 2006 or growing at 14% annually or 2x in 7 years on projects mentioned.

Part of the budget public involvement includes a how-to-distribute-next-dollar exercise. Those things are far from scientific because the respondents are self-selected, but it would be interesting to see how far afield the actual is from those responses.

simply comparing PDC to BHCD on a line-by-line expenditure basis is not reflective of the City's spending on housing needs.

When someone releases numbers on that, we'll gladly post them. A more important question is why we have two city agencies competing with each other on public housing.

"A more important question is why we have two city agencies competing with each other on public housing."


Why build the vast majority of affordable housing in just the 15% of the city that is classified as an urban renewal area?


Why build any affordable housing in URAs where the city needs to raise property values to pay off urban renewal bonds?


If you were a poor family, would you want to live in a 500sf condo in the south waterfront, or a 1500sf house off of East Powell? They cost the same.

Over 27% of funds are going to agencies with "development" in their name. Wanna guess how many people even know what these agencies do with all that money. My bet is that not many. Either these agencies had better show the public what we are getting for all that money or the money had better go to something we can understand, you know, like police and fire.


I am not sure that the gentrification of Portland's urban neighborhoods is necessarily a good thing. The problems have not been solved, just relocated into someone else's backyard.

I would be willing to bet that the ghettos would exist if they could afford to live there. I seem to remember back in the 80's that North Portland had what could be called ghettos. The residents were forced out by redevelopment, not social change.

"we know that some chunk of PDC spending is for low income housing..."

Like the ultra-luxury "Nines Hotel"?

But when cities refuse to invest in themselves, the result is that they concentrate the entire burden of housing the poor in the central city, leading those who can afford to leave to do so, resulting in the downward spiral that at its worst is Detroit, a failed city in almost every way. This is what happened to some extent in every US city in the 50s and 60s, leading to myriad social problems like the worst crime and education system in the developed world (remarkable for the world's wealthiest country). The alternative is distributing income levels throughout the city and suburbs - like we have in Portland metro.

Some cities have recovered better than others - I would challenge anyone to list ANY that have done better than Portland. The city's investment in itself may actually be quite visionary, despite the misgivings of many who post here. Staying competitive costs $$$, but still a lot less than the alternative. We are blessed (?) to have many counter-examples in the US to learn from.

Unit, if you would study the PDC fundings (CoPs largest contributor to "distribution [of]income levels") you would find that it is not "throughtout the city and suburbs" on any proportional basis.

Jack, there are valid rumors going around recently to add to your and others predictions of "dire financial consequences". Remember when Sam called for a moratorium on development for Hayden Island because it is an island with tremendous congestion/traffic problems?

Some of us also requested that Sam's theory be applied to SoWhat because of it's "transportation island" nature. Even though CoP planners, PDOT claim that there will be 40% transit usage in SoWhat, others as well as South Portland NA has for 15 years been strongly noting the transportation ills of SoWhat.

ODOT has recently reasserted their strong concerns concerning this-they are using the words "STOP WORK".

The presently completed redesigned, on-grade interim 1-5 off ramp, even according to PDOTs recent "sensitiviy study", calls for failure on the ramp, Macadam and even I-5 by 2010. When the "fly-over ramp" is completed (no final funding or start date) that ramp could be a failure by 2030. Failure for ODOT is backup of traffic onto I-5 and a mess on ODOT's Macadam Ave.

What would a "STOP WORK" order do to the financial health of this URA and the city? Not good. Our city's and state Comprehensive Plans require transportation infrastructure to be in place, congruent to development. That is what ODOT is wanting to stress, and it can't make other transportation systems fail.

"Unit's" comments have been removed. We don't do personal insults here.

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