Portland’s population has dropped from 66,882 in 2017 to 66,417 in 2018, despite affordable-housing incentives and policies implemented by the city’s Planning Board and designed to create and sustain affordable housing for local wage earners who are struggling to work and live in Portland.

Lack of local employees can make it difficult for thriving stores and restaurants to function efficiently. Gentrification has the power to revitalize neighborhoods and lift families out of poverty by creating and sustaining higher market values. Gentrification can also displace long-term residents and vulnerable populations who struggle to pay the higher rents and taxes that are associated with those increased market rates. According to the 2017 Portland Housing Report, almost half of Portland’s renters and 30 percent of its homeowners face a lack of affordable housing. Many pay 30 percent or more of their annual household income on housing, which is not considered “affordable” or responsible.

The city of Portland has been enacting programs and policies such as the Housing Trust Fund, inclusionary zoning and workforce housing to curb the negative effects of gentrification, which are preventing lower-end wage earners and long-term stayers from living in the city.

Portland’s policy of freedom of choice, part of the housing component of Portland’s 2002 comprehensive plan, set the goal of ensuring “freedom of choice in housing type, tenure, and neighborhood for all.” Limited to no choice in types of housing and limited to no choice in affordable housing equals a policy sorely lacking in freedom of choice.

The city’s current housing achievements include the City Council’s approved funding for four projects that include affordable housing. Deering Place, 37 Front St., 178 Kennebec St. and 977 Brighton Ave. all include the use of affordable-housing tax increment financing and Housing Trust Fund dollars. This demonstrates a commitment by city leaders to take the negative effects of gentrification seriously and should make the people of Portland feel good.

But is this enough? Imagine if even more inclusionary zoning projects existed because the city decided to increase the incentivized opt-out “in-lieu-of” fees paid by developers who choose not to include affordable housing in their developments. Or imagine how much more money there would be in the Housing Trust Fund to financially aid the development of even more affordable-housing projects.

In addition to increasing the opt-out fees, the city needs to think outside the box and examine proven democratic housing models such as limited-equity cooperatives. This housing model promotes individual rental or ownership investments in a variety of traditional housing types such as condominiums, townhouses, single-family units and even student housing. It enables self-governance in the way it is operated and managed. It ensures ongoing affordability through lower tax assessments and deed restrictions. Limited-equity cooperatives can even be self-sustaining when they are formed with common interests and values and can profit from selling their own commodities such as food, farming or even craft beer.

Cooperative members benefit not only from being financially invested in their own living space but also socially invested in their community. Cooperatives have a long proven history of success dating as far back as the 1920s and were successful in providing affordable-housing stock during gentrification in parts of New York City and Washington, D.C.

Another form of democratic housing commonly found in Europe and Latin America is decommodified housing such as tenement syndicates and mutual-aid cooperatives. These offer the best of both worlds when residents share ownership with the organizations that oversee the projects. The syndicate’s part is in managing multiple projects, gathering resources to sustain existing projects and expanding new projects, which promotes ongoing affordable-housing development.

City leaders need to commit publicly to working with affordable-housing advocacy groups; organizations that represent vulnerable populations; and lenders, landlords and developers to collaborate through fair representation. This demonstrates a united front in making Portland a model city that will succeed in achieving the common goal of freedom of choice by ensuring there is a choice in affordable living for everyone.


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