Portland’s Gentrification by the Numbers

The dreaded G-word has been tossed around much lately, from San Francisco’s Google bus blockades to Spike Lee’s whip-smart  knowledge dropping at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Gentrification is sweeping the nation, stirring up a hornet’s nest of rationalizing and resistance alike. Coast to coast, we’ve got a problem on our hands. This is especially true here in Rip City.

Despite what the “smart growth” urbanists and developers appearing on NPR will tell you, there is no benefit to gentrification. Those who argue there’s a good side are likely deliberately to trying confuse revitalization with gentrification. To be clear, the term gentrification is derived from the word ‘gentry’, which literally translates as ‘upper class’. Improving a neighborhood for those who live there is not gentrification. Improving a neighborhood solely for a wealthier class who will replace the existing residents is what we’re talking about here, and it is not some unintentional byproduct. Claiming that a gentrified neighborhood has ridden itself of crime or poverty is absurd. You’ve only moved the poverty somewhere else while ignoring the economic causation of crime.

We all agree that people being priced out of their homes by soaring rents is wrong – unless you’re the one profiting from the capital housing market, in which case, it’s unlikely you’re reading this blog. It seems, however, most Portlanders talk of gentrification in terms of abstraction. It’s not something they’ve had to personally struggle with. They likely have little historical knowledge of Portland’s racist housing policies, and how these cycles of divestment and “urban renewal” have preyed upon economically disadvantaged classes. People of color have been hit hardest in this town by gentrification. Albina’s black population is a fraction of what it was a generation ago as families are priced out, forced to the slightly cheaper outskirts of the city.

It’s with sad irony that the threat of gentrification finally coming to beloved Southeast Portland has riled white folk mostly over the loss of their precious food carts. However, if you look at the numbers, inner Southeast is hurting a lot more than you’d think, and the people living there, myself included, might be more at risk than we’d imagined.Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.06.41 AMIn my census tract, which comprises much of the Buckman neighborhood, the median household income is only $19,913, and the number of residents living below the poverty line is almost 26%. This isn’t deep East Portland, this is the middle of the city core. Yet despite this staggeringly low income level, the median house price for the same tract is $376,494.00 – literally 18 times the annual income of the average wage-earner here. And the average monthly rent for just a single bedroom apartment in the inner core is $1,039.25. Without financial assistance, somebody earning $19,913 would need to spend 60% of their income on solo renting in this neighborhood.  It’s been suggested this vast divide between income and price could partly be due to a high number of REACH rentals in Buckman. I’m currently researching more into this. To find data on your own part of town, check out the handy interactive map here at City-Data.com.

What’s truly scary is that this area of town is about to become ground-zero for massive new housing developments. The argument that rental prices will stabilize if the supply is increased simply aren’t based in reality. I’ve personally spoken with several property managers who all say the same thing: rents are determined by averages, not availability. Building owners instruct their managers to survey other local buildings, determining “market values”. They’ll then proceed to increase rents above this average to whatever percentage they believe they can get away with.

It’s called speculation for a very good reason, and it has nothing to do with trite notions of supply and demand. When hundreds of property owners are all playing this game, it’s not hard to see why the rent is too damn high.

Overall, the rent in Portland is skyrocketing. What Chuck Palahniuk cherished as an affordable city a decade ago has seen the rental consumer price index far outpace general inflation, while wages for service class workers have virtually stagnated. From 2006 through 2013, rental prices in Portland jumped 25.38 %. I can honestly say throughout that same period, I make no more money now than I did 8 years ago. Few people I know are fairing much better.

Portland doesn’t have many of the common tools to fight gentrification. Inclusionary zoning is illegal in Oregon. Rent control is something few in elected office will talk about. Yet solutions need to be sought. For perenial communities who’ve made Portland worth moving to in the first place – and for incoming transplants infusing new creative vibrancy, we need to make Portland accessible and affordable to all. We need to build a Right to the City movement.

Please join Rebel Metropolis and friends on your bicycle June 9th at Col. Summers Park at 5:30pm. We’ll be touring some scenes of the gentrification crime, and we’ll be talking about community-based solutions to the housing affordability crisis threatening our city.

See you in the streets.



Disclaimer: I’m not much of a numbers person, so admittedly this post doesn’t paint a very complete picture. Feel free to add links to any data you’ve researched in the comments below.



    1. And always watch out when a city/town/county talks about getting rid of “blight.” One of those eye-of-the-beholder things. Seriously, another subject when you talk about excessive housing costs is financing public schools by general tax revenue rather than residential property taxes.
      The state, not cities, should fund schools directly–it’s an area where we desperately need to take from the rich and give to the poor. Cutting res. property taxes by the amount that funds schools would win favor of much of the right. Financing schools via sales and income taxes could remove some of the value of housing in neighborhoods surrounding supposed prime schools–there shouldn’t have to be bidding wars to get your kids into specific public schools.

  1. This is good stuff but is anyone intending to include peeps over 35 in this discussion? We’re also working class, radical and getting priced out. How about allies who can’t bike because of physical challenges?

    1. As far as the age of those involved in this conversation, I’m not sure how to answer your question. I don’t see anyone excluding anyone from the conversation due to age. In regard to the cycling inquiry, yes, we want to be as inclusive as possible. Here’s a line from a piece I wrote some time ago:

      ” it has never been easier to get on a bike. I can guarantee you know several people with old bikes in their garage that could be road-worthy with less than 50 bucks maintenance. The diversity and range of different types of bikes accommodates a wide range of body types and physical abilities. You’ve probably seen legendary Portland activist Brian Wilson riding around town on his hand-crank bike, as his legs were lost while he blocked a train carrying military weapons headed for South America. If you are concerned about finding the right sized frame, or have what you consider to be a physical barrier to riding, there are a wealth of people in your community ready to help you out of your car and onto a bike.”

      Let us know what particular issues you have and we’ll do our best to accommodate you, xtinA.

      1. Its happening in n.portland also. But it isnt doing anything but pushing the middle class out . Middle class is moving to vancouver , scappoose, beaverton or st. Helens and commuting . Causing traffic to become more and more congested..not to mention defeating the purpose of bicycling to work or helping the environment . We still have the poverty stricken areas, so more and more poverty moving in and rents unaffordable to everyone who doesnt want to live in the very worst neighborhoods n.portland has to offer. Something has to be done immed. Tiny two bedroom old homes renting for 1295.00 and up. Its horrible.!

        1. Yes, and this middle-class migration is an energy use, and thus both a climate change and a national security issue. You could say most reasonably that our free market in housing helps finance terrorism by facilitating greater use of oil. It’s time to talk about not just rent control but forced rent rollbacks–tell landlords that they’ll have a choice between property confiscation or reducing their rents to 1990 levels. Put a windfall profits tax on short term property “flipping” which can be a direct driver of housing inflation. A few jailed landlords and seized properties could put a great number of them in line. No, no humor or irony intended here, not at all.

    2. How do countries and cultures without as much automobile ownership and use; i.e. Europe, do about your question? How do Dutch, French, German, and Danish citizens with physical challenges cope?

  2. I am certainly no pro business person, but I must say…

    that due to high interest rates, the rents need to keep going up – sucks for some of you that your food service job does not pay more, but then —- isn’t that a sign that you need to move to another city?

    What is wrong with Cleveland/Detroit/Cinci/Pittsburg/ etc etc etc?

    You would have the same size city as Portland, older and more “character”, and just as good a place to ride your Huffy bicycles…

    But oh, wait…. they dont have weed in those places, so that is why you all “need” to live here…

    maybe “you” are part of the problem???

    why does “everybody” have to live in the same place???

    America is a big country…. please spread out a little, OK?

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