Growing Pains Plague Portland

Photo: Steve Morgan

Increasing numbers of homeless, budget gaps and ballooning affordable-housing demand were pain points for the city in fiscal year 2018-19, according to a report. 

Share this article!

A study analyzing the effectiveness of Portland’s investment in services reveals uphill struggles the city faces as its population continues to grow.

The City Budget Office released a report this week that analyzes the city’s performance in key areas. Here are some highlights:

•    Homelessness is a growing problem. Last year the city received 35,000 reports of active campsites throughout Portland. “Addressing the potential health and safety issues that impact both campers and neighbors is incredibly challenging,” the report says.

Despite the problem, the city has made progress in housing people at risk of becoming homeless. Last year 5,410 people accessed homeless services for the first time in Portland. A total 37,000 people were provided with prevention, housing and placement services through a budget of $71.5 million.

In FY 2018-19, the city prevented 7,220 individuals (exceeding the city’s target of 5,020) from becoming homeless, a slight dip from 7,458 helped in FY 2017-18.

The city placed 5,770 individuals in permanent housing in FY 2018-19, a 3% increase over the prior year.

•    Affordable-housing demand balloons. A record 878 new affordable-housing units were opened in FY 2018-19, a 214% increase from 2014.

Overshadowing this achievement are estimates that Portland needs to produce an average of 1,800 affordable-housing units each year through 2035 to meet anticipated growth.

•    City bureaus face yawning budget gaps. Many city bureaus that manage critical infrastructure — including the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Portland Parks and Recreation, the Portland Water Bureau, the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Office of Management and Finance — are underfunded.

Parks and Recreation, for example, faces a $450 million maintenance backlog. The Bureau of Transportation needs an extra $295.3 million a year over the next 10 years to maintain today’s service levels.       

In FY 2018-19, the funds the city uses for repairs and replacing assets was short $427.8 million. The latest available data show 69% of the city’s assets were in fair condition at the end of 2018, down from a high of 76% in 2013.

•    Falling short of carbon-reduction goals. The city has not made progress toward its carbon-reduction goals. Citywide, per-person carbon emissions increased to 38% below 1990 levels in FY 2018-19, from 41% below 1990 levels in FY 2017-18. This was the first increase since tracking began.

The percentage of commuters walking, cycling and taking transit declined to 23% in 2018, from 24.6% in 2017. The city’s goal is to have 70% of commuters taking carbon-free or low-carbon forms of transportation by 2030.

The percentage of waste recycled or composted citywide held steady at 54% in FY 2018-19, compared with a high of 79% in FY 2013-14.

While the city has made strides in its performance on certain services it provides, it needs more resources to improve collaboration across bureaus, the budget office says.

The office recommends the city form centralized teams to improve service across bureaus. No centralized funding for this work exists, but an informal team of city staff meets to share tips on improving processes.

Greater collaboration across city services is “critical to enabling the city to meet the demands of a growing and changing Portland,” say the report’s authors in a summary of the study.


Latest from Kim Moore