Wednesday August 28, 2013 | 03:57 PM

Staff writer Randy Billings, reporting from yesterday's planning board hearing, shared an preliminary design for a 15-story apartment building being planned for Portland's Bayside neighborhood (pictured below).

The project would include retail space on the ground floor and about 190 new apartments in the tower above. And it's only phase one in a larger project that would add four more towers with a total of 675 new apartments in the neighborhood.

With a project as ambitious as this one, some might wonder whether Portland's housing market — even with its miniscule vacancy rates — can handle such a large influx of new supply.

I admit that I'm biased as a booster for new housing and population growth in our city, but I think that this project will easily be absorbed into Portland's housing market. Here's a few reasons why:

  • CONTEXT IN THE LARGER MARKET: It's a big building, and it's going to make an impact on the city's skyline. But Portland's total housing market is much, much larger than this high-rise.

    According to the 2010 Census, there were a total of 33,838 housing units in the City of Portland. This building's 190 apartments would represent a 0.56 percent increase to the city's supply. And in the regional housing market, the effect is even smaller: with 138,657 units in Cumberland County, this tower would represent only a 0.13 percent increase to the county's supply.
  • BACKLOGGED CONSTRUCTION: Since the recession began, there hasn't been much housing construction anywhere in Cumberland County. Census building permit data indicates that there's been less than one percent annual growth in new housing construction since 2007. Housing growth in the City of Portland proper has been even slower.

    Meanwhile, the city's population has continued to grow (see the next point below). In some sense, the "midtown" project may be helping the city and region make up for lost time.
  • POPULATION GROWTH: Between the Census of 2000 and the Census of 2010, the City of Portland gained 1,945 new residents – a three percent increase over the decade. The city's Creative Portland organization, a quasi-municipal economic development advocacy group, has set a goal of attracting 10,000 new creative economy workers to Portland by 2020.

    That would be a 15 percent rate of growth for the city's population. That's an ambitious goal, but given Portland's rising prominence as an attractive place to live, it might be possible – if those migrants can find a place to live in our city. 

    Even a five percent increase to the city's population would require the city to add thousands of new housing units in the next decade — far more than the 675 new units proposed in the full buildout of "midtown."

    In that context, building high-rise housing located within walking distance of downtown jobs, grocery stores and Back Cove seems like a reasonable way to accommodate the city's natural growth.


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