Portland, region hemorrhaging rental properties

By: Jim Redden, Portland Tribune

City policies to help renters may have backfired, causing rentals to disappear, a new report finds.

Change in detached single family rental units from 2015 to 2020
COURTESY: ECONORTHWEST - A map showing changes in single-family rental units by neighborhood in the Portland area between 2015 and 2020.

After a period of confusion, a revised economic report confirms the loss of single-family, detached rental houses in Portland and the larger metropolitan region.

If fact, the revised report says that nearly six time more rental houses were lost between 2015 and 2020 than the original report claimed.

Both reports were prepared by the ECONorthwest economic consulting firm for Oregon real estate professionals and Multifamily Northwest, which represents landlords.

"The loss of the detached rental stock is widespread across the region, with 90% of tracts having fewer units today than in 2014. The number of units lost was more heavily concentrated in neighborhoods with lower home prices across the region," reads the new report titled, "Single family detached rental housing trends from 2015 to 2020 in the Portland Metro region."
The first report was released and discussed during an online press conference on March 15 was retracted within hours of it being released.

The new report, based on completely different figures was released on March 25. It said there were many more total rental houses in Portland and the region than the previous report — but that far more had been lost during the five-year period.

For rent sign in front of single family home
PMG FILE PHOTO - Policies designed to help renters are being blamed for a massive reduction in rental properties, both in Portland and the greater metro area.

Much of the change is explained by different data sets used in the two reports. The new report said the number of lost rental units was actually much larger than initially believed, declining from 27,656 to 23,669 units over the five-year period, a 14% reduction in the stock of rental houses.

The same held true for the regional figures. The new report said the total fell from 63,861 to 57,444 units, a 10% reduction.

The new report cites its data source as the Regional Land Information System produced by Metro, the elected regional government, which provides parcel level data from 2015 to 2020. Ownership characteristics were evaluated to determine which housing units appear to be renter occupied.

Unintended consequences

Apartment Complex with Max Train
COURTESY: HOME FORWARD - While the city has lost many single-family rental homes, the construction of three- to five-bedroom apartments has not kept pace.

Both reports said the declines followed the enactment of new rental regulations. They included a Portland requirement that landlords pay the relocation of tenants who say they cannot afford their rent increases.

During the initial, March 15 press conference, Michael Havlik, deputy executive director of Multifamily Northwest, blamed the decline on such regulations.

"A lot of our mom-and-pop members are choosing to sell their rentals because it has gotten increasing difficult to continue operating," Havlik said.

Jeremy Rogers, director of legal affairs and public policy for Oregon Realtors, agreed.

"Traditionally, landlord/tenant regulations have happened on the state level. These local regulations are new and complicated and many smaller landlords don't have the resources to deal with them," Rogers said.

Participants described the properties being lost as naturally occurring, affordable, workforce housing for families with children or multiple generations that is not being replaced. Most of it has been lost in East Portland and Multnomah County, which both reports found.

Although Portland leaders have encouraged the production of multi-family housing, the press conference participants said not enough larger apartments have been built to replace the loss of the rental houses. Only around 1,100 three- to five-room apartments have been built in the city during the period covered by the study, the new report said.

Those speaking at the press conference said state, regional and local leaders need to make it easier to build and operate all kinds of rental housing, including single-family detached houses.

The first, retracted report said Portland had lost 719 rental houses during the five year period, which was 28% of the city's total. The report said 1,111 rental houses had lost in the tri-county region during the same period, which was 24% of the regional total.

After it was retracted, ECONorthwest released a written statement that reads: "We have discovered an error in our work and cannot stand by this finding until we further explore the data sets and analytical steps we used. Census data show an increase in total number of single family detached rental housing units, which at this time we have no evidence to suggest is incorrect."