Is Portland losing its luster?

“A standoff between the police and protesters over a mixed-race family’s eviction in Portland, Ore., is stirring up old ghosts of segregation and redlining from the 20th century,” the New York Times declared on Friday morning, Dec. 10.  “…barricades constructed with orange traffic cones, plywood, overturned dumpsters and wooden doors blocked vehicle access to the area around the house in all directions. Protesters dressed in black sat at the barricades, some warming themselves at makeshift fires.”

Neighbors walk past the protester-erected barricades, Dec. 10, 2020 on North Mississippi Ave. in Portland.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

By late Saturday evening, a gofundme account, Save The Kinney Family Home, had raised $308,257 from 5,900 sympathetic donors, even though the story of what was going on with the house and its residents was constantly shifting. Meanwhile, neighbors seethed as the protest spread over several blocks and fears grew of clashes between activists and Portland Police.

 A sheriff’s office news release says 81 calls for service were made in the area between September 1 and November 30, because of fights, shots fired, burglary, thefts, vandalism, noise violations and threats by armed individuals. Meanwhile, accounts of open hostility to journalists covering the turmoil increased, including physical assault.

All this turmoil came after residents of Portland’s Laurelhurst neighborhood homes had gotten sick and tired of the steady growth in homeless camping in the area in blue tarp-covered tents and RVs, the trash, the garbage, needles everywhere, feces on their property, people urinating openly in their yards.

Homeless campsite at Laurelhurst Park, Portland, OR

On Nov. 19, the City of Portland finally responded to constant complaints when workers and volunteers began sweeping the encampment, removing the campsite construction and cleaning up the surrounding area. 

News of the sweep spread locally, regionally and nationally, adding to the long list of stories appearing across the country about the problems in Portland, Oregon during the year. Protests initially sparked by the May death of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned into violent tear gas-filled clashes with police that turned fatal in late August when an antifa supporter shot and killed a counter-protester. 

Police use chemical irritants and crowd control munitions to disperse protesters during a demonstration in Portland on Sept. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Protests, riots, vandalism, intimidation, shootings, murders, tear gas, arrests, looting, indiscriminate destruction dominated news about Portland for much of 2000. The turmoil may have been primarily in certain hotspots, but the perception has grown nationally that all of Portland, the liberal utopia, is a hot mess, a metropolis of mayhem.

You can’t help but think it has diminished Portland’s reputation and caused potential newcomers from other parts of the country to have second thoughts.  

Until recently, Portland has been among the most popular urban magnets for migrating Americans, particularly the young and educated that modern cities covet.

Migration data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 5 year American Community Survey showed that Portland was one of the places attracting the most young adults age 25-34 during 2012-2017. Seven metropolitan areas, Houston; Denver; Dallas; Seattle; Austin; Charlotte; and Portland exhibited annual net migration gains for young adults that exceeded 7,000. The Portland Metropolitan Area’s gain was 7,203, of which an astonishing 41% were college graduates.

In 2018, based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2018 one-year American Community Survey, the Portland Metro Area dropped off the list. Instead, the top seven metro areas attracting millennials were Seattle, with a net migration of about 11,300, followed by Denver, Austin, San Antonio, Charlotte, Houston, Nashville.  Phoenix, Paradise NV and Columbus, Ohio. Portland didn’t even make the top 10.

All the negative publicity Portland has been getting lately may have pushed its desirability down even further. 

Portland’s reputation as a popular hub for millennial renters certainly appears to be slipping as other up-and-coming cities nationwide take the top spots. According to one real estate analysis, Portland ranked 13th overall among the top millennial hotspots for renters, on average, for the years 2015-2020. But in 2020 alone, the Rose City dropped to 22nd, behind such up-and-coming places as Washington, D.C., Memphis, TN and San Antonio, TX.

An increasing number of millennial renters are choosing more affordable areas, such as Austin, TX, the number 1 hotspot for millennial renters in 2020. The rapidly developing area saw both its employment offerings and its residents’ incomes swell in recent years, while still maintaining a lower cost of living than other major business centers. 

Homebuying in Portland is getting tougher for millennials, too. In October 2020, the median sale price of a Portland area home rose to $435,000 and there’s a widening gap between median home prices and median household incomes. To secure a 20% down payment for a median-priced home, millennials would need to save $87,000. And that’s just the down payment. 

Portland’s appeal probably isn’t helped by the fact that in 2020 Portland became the city with the highest personal income taxes in the United States. The news was delivered in testimony to the Oregon Legislature. The State Tax Research Institute reported that state and local income taxes in Portland total nearly 14% — a rate that’s higher than San Francisco or New York.

Even tourists are getting less enchanted with Portland. A headline in a story in The Oregonian said recently, “Tourists’ views of Portland turn sharply negative, another blow to hospitality industry.”   

Perception clearly matters. As Elaine Lindberg tweeted in response to The Oregonian story, “Every Portland-related post I put on my Facebook page seems to elicit an “I’ll never go to that dangerous city” reply. They think the whole huge city is a riot zone and that every resident is an anarchist. It’s SO frustrating and sad; I worry that our businesses can’t recover.”

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