Portland is facing a housing crisis. A 2015 report commissioned by the city and carried out by the Greater Portland Council of Governments indicated that middle-class families are being priced out of the city. This same report says that by 2025, Portland will face at least a 28 percent gap between the demand for and supply of workforce housing: housing that is affordable to someone making the median income for a particular area.

Maine Housing’s 2016 Housing Facts and Affordability Index for Cumberland County lists the median home price for the city of Portland as $262,000. According to housing affordability guidelines, being able to comfortably buy a house in that range requires an annual income of $80,110 – nearly twice the median Portland income of $43,839.

The home price that an individual earning the median income can afford? $143,479. The number of single-family homes available in that price range in Portland, according to a real estate website? One. Between 2010 and 2014, only 29 percent of the new housing projects that were permitted or being built were priced within the reach of Portland’s workforce.

Dual-income families whose annual earnings are closer to what is needed to purchase a home at the median price do not fare much better. That $262,000 is far more likely to buy a one-bedroom condo than a single-family house that is large enough to raise a family. What’s more, these issues are not just limited to homebuyers: 61.9 percent of Portland households cannot afford the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment.

What does this mean for the city of Portland? It means that many of those who work in the city are unable to live here and instead find themselves seeking housing options outside of Portland, as the Portland Press Herald has documented in its “No Vacancy” series. This can have lasting impacts on the people forced to make this move and the economic vitality of the city.

Employees face longer commutes to work. Instead of being able to walk or make use of public transportation, they sit in their cars for longer and longer periods of time. Researchers have found that individuals with longer commute times face increased rates of obesity, higher blood pressure and other health problems linked to inactivity. As families move in search of cheaper housing, they may also lose access to higher-quality services, such as good schools and robust emergency medical services.


At the community level, higher numbers of commuters also contribute to increased local road congestion and ground-level air pollution in the towns they must pass through. As the demand for housing increases in these outlying communities, zoning regulations that are not up to date may lead to increased sprawl and strain on local infrastructure. Sprawl is known to contribute to numerous environmental issues, such as contaminated stormwater runoff into our waterways, more paved surfaces (which absorb heat and raise the risk of flooding) and decreased wildlife habitat.

According to the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, access to a large and diverse labor pool is a key factor for companies making decisions on corporate locations. High housing costs are also a deterrent for new college graduates who are just beginning their careers and find that an entry-level salary limits their housing options. This can lead to stagnation of the labor pool and put the city at risk of becoming a less desirable corporate location.

There are steps that can be taken to mitigate this. As with many urban areas, development space in Portland, and thus development opportunities, is limited. Supporting developers who will create rental housing and homebuying options for people of mixed income levels is of vital importance. Working to make the best use of currently available land with higher-density developments that create attainable homeownership while preserving open space can both help mitigate housing issues and protect the green spaces that are integral to the character of the city.

Portland’s housing crisis is something that can be turned around. With foresight and thoughtful planning, the city can help foster a development environment that creates a diversity of housing options that are affordable to all of Portland’s citizens.

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