10 Ways Portland is Addressing Housing Issues

by Sep 12, 2018Economy, Resources, Smart Cities

Ted Wheeler

Ted Wheeler is the Mayor of Portland, Oregon. He previously served as Multnomah County Commissioner and Oregon State Treasurer.

Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


Like many cities, Portland, Oregon has had a massive influx of new residents in the last decade. More than 100 people move to Portland every day—and more than 100,000 more are projected to move here over the next 20 years.

This growth is undoubtedly exciting: Portland is often listed as one of the most desirable places in America to live. Situated in a park-like setting, thanks to the green trees, parks, and the various rose gardens Portland is known for, visitors and new residents alike enjoy our creativity evidenced through our celebrations, our maker culture, and our pioneering spirit. This has created an economic draw for many of our visitors and new residents. The Seattle Times recently called Portland’s economy “transformational.” Forbes called Portland the best place in America for careers and business.

I’m taking on these challenges. So are mayors across the country. It is our responsibility to grow smart, which we are doing by protecting renters, preserving existing units, and producing new units.

Here are 10 ways Portland is tackling housing—along a spectrum from homelessness to homeownership, and creating affordable solutions along that spectrum. We have focused our efforts on leveraging funding sources, and maximizing strategic investment opportunities:

  1. We are implementing a fee on short-term rental units, including Airbnb, to create additional homeownership opportunities. Because short-term rental companies have a significant impact on the availability of rental units, we are modestly increasing the fee to create a dedicated fund for homeownership opportunities in our gentrifying neighborhoods in our community.
  2. We are leveraging Portland dollars to create 1300 units in five to seven years with a Housing Bond. We are delivering well ahead of schedule on this promise—announcing four projects totaling more than 560 units of permanently affordable housing planned or purchased to date under the Bond only 18 months in. We are also pushing for a constitutional amendment statewide to allow us to leverage our dollars by combining them with private resources to create more housing units.
  3. We are implementing Tax Increment Funding in urban renewal areas– We have over 600 units (and hundreds more on the way) in the construction or permitting process in our urban renewal districts.
  4. We utilize public and private sector partnerships to increase housing opportunities. Portland continues to work with longtime partner Kaiser Permanente, who recently joined Mayors and CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment. Kaiser committed a record $200M into a new community investment fund to preserve and expand affordable housing.
  5. We utilize methods of creating permanent affordability. We continue to partner with our local land trust housing provider, Proud Ground, and our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate to create permanently affordable homeownership opportunities for Portland area residents.
  6. We work with local and state agencies to create funding availability for permanent supportive housing units. This funding opportunity marks the first-time funding to build affordable housing has been bundled with funding for the services residents will need to thrive in that housing. By packaging construction capital and support services funding together for the first time, the City and its partners hope to achieve a minimum of 50 permanent supportive housing units.
  7. We are using a Smart Cities PDX Priorities Framework to ensure our growth is equitable. As the City evaluates new technologies, uses of information, and related partnerships, we must ensure they promote equity, address inequities and disparities in our city, and provide tangible benefits to the people of Portland. We intend to expand this framework into how we approach housing—promoting equity and addressing inequities and disparities in our city.
  8. We are increasing renter protections with an expungement program. The pilot program reduces barriers for those with a criminal record trying to rent homes and increases access to housing opportunities. Those with violations, misdemeanors or low-level felonies are eligible for expungement.
  9. We leverage market rate developments to include affordable housing. The Multiple-Unit Limited Tax Exemption program incentivizes those with market rate developments in the pipeline to include affordable housing units in their projects, so we can more quickly put more affordable housing units on the ground.
  10. We utilize Inclusionary Zoning.  We require any new development of 20 units or more to have affordable housing units included in the development.

We have focused our efforts on leveraging funding sources, and maximizing strategic investment opportunities because I want to ensure that Portland remains a city that is accessible and affordable for everyone. I don’t want millionaires to be the only people who can afford to live downtown. I don’t want service industry workers to have a two-hour commute. I want a city where we actively create housing options at every income level and for people of all ages.

Portland City Council has consistently voted in favor of more housing despite otherwise important and competing values—and I want to be clear that our efforts have paid off.

Annual production and permitting levels are higher than at any point in the last 15 years. In 2017, there were 14,000 units in the production pipeline, including permits. More than 600 affordable housing units came online in 2017—more than double the number of units in the prior year.

And this year will be another record year. There are currently more than 700 newly affordable units under construction and slated to open in 2018. This will be the largest number of affordable units ever produced by the City of Portland in a single year in modern history.

As Mayor, I will continue to prioritize policies to protect renters, preserve existing units, and produce new units.


Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.


  1. Hello! My name is Curtis Robinson. I am the Senior Pastor at the Faith Baptist Church in Oakland, CA. I am also a Fellow in Residence at Harvard Divinity School. Your approach to gentrification is yet the most humane approach to residential sustainability that I have read. While here, I will be setting up a series of podcasts that will help us to understand why inclusion is important at every level of the human scale. Please let me know if an interview is possible. Thank you!

  2. All of these 10 things will help. A little. What I don’t see on this list is any plan to help reduce the number of homeless people who need mental health treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, or are recently released from jail. Where is the job training? The counseling? Where are the wrap around services that have proven to be successful in other cities? Providing housing, actual beds, is a first step but it will not cure the issues that are creating our epidemic of homelessness. Portugal has a proven method for preventing drug deaths and decreasing the spread of HIV. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/05/portugals-radical-drugs-policy-is-working-why-hasnt-the-world-copied-it and there is much to be learned and applied from the models used in San Antonios Haven for Hope as well as in Utah’s approach to homeless reduction. None of these are a silver bullet but services and treatment are a HUGE part of reducing homelessness and I do not see this addressed in the Mayor’s proposal.

  3. Please define affordable housing, including specific dollar amounts
    My definition probably differs from yours.

  4. I appreciate all your hard work, but I can no longer ride the 205 bike trail due to the number of campers who place their stuff in the trail and are aggressive. We have tent cities near our home. When those are gone, then I will agree we are doing what we can. There should be a fenced area where all these people can camp, no where else. They do no belong on the bike trails and neighborhoods. It is unsanitary and unsafe.

  5. “Oregonians hate sprawl. And we hate density. We will have to spread out the affordable housing throughout the community in our community corridors. Downtown is not affordable.

    As for the homeless, it really should be addressed as a statewide issue and the State should take on housing and related issues for all major cities.

  6. Thank you for all that you are doing. My home isn’t large or fancy, but it keeps us warm on cold and rainy nights. I feel so sorry for people who can’t afford even a small apartment.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity

Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity

The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.

In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.

Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots

Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots

One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing.  Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.

ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots”  for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions.  This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.

Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis

Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis

Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.

It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This