At or around the same time that the city of Portland was preparing to dismantle the Bayside Trail homeless encampment this week, U.S. News and World Report was putting the finishing touches to one of its many rah-rah annual rankings: the 150 best places to live in America.

Portland’s skyline glows in early morning sun from the Peaks Island ferry landing in 2016. Even the idealized version of the city presented in U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 “best places to live” ranking couldn’t overlook the gap between housing prices and the area median income. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer, File

“The new list ranks the country’s 150 most populous metropolitan areas based on value, desirability, job market and quality of life,” trumpeted the news release.

Portland, as you may or may not have heard, came in seventh in the nation this year.

The publication appended 27 photographs of the city to the good news. Without looking, most of us could guess the selections: sun-dappled Bug Light, picnic blankets on the Eastern Prom, the White Mountains as viewed from the Western Prom, fall hues in Deering Oaks, an old Volvo wheeling its way through Back Cove, lobster boats on a glassy Casco Bay, waves lapping around the rocks at Portland Head, and on and on.

Yes, city residents encounter these treasured sights every day. But missing from the montage was anything that might have told a slightly more truthful story about Portland in 2023.

A rapidly increasing number of those living here, in this best of places to live, are homeless.


More again are finding themselves on the precipice.

Far too many Portlanders can’t see very far into the future.

To introduce anything like nuance or texture to the presentation wouldn’t have served U.S. News and World Report’s bottom line (recall that this organization is a rankings machine, a machine whose college rankings were all but obliterated last year as dozens of schools pulled out, critical of their unreliability and ill effects).

A real summary, however, would have featured people sleeping in doorways and pitching tents under bridges; local election posters squabbling bitterly over rent control, and beloved longtime businesses permanently closed down.

The comments from U.S. News’ real estate editor also gave us pause. “This year’s rankings are a reflection of the current economic, social and natural factors that impact a place’s livability for its residents,” read the statement. “People are considering more than housing when they look at an area’s affordability.”

Portland is many things. It is utterly magnetic. It’s extremely beautiful, charming and welcoming. It exists at a rare intersection of dazzling natural resources. Portland is full of interesting buildings, panoramic views and its residents are surrounded by good things to do.


It is not, lately, an area that can be praised for its “affordability.”

Most of us know people who have been priced out of the city or – in an unusually short amount of time – had some vision of returning to Portland, or getting more established here, whisked way out sight by the stratospheric cost of housing.

The median home price in the Portland-South Portland metro area last June was about $470,000. As we reported at the time, that requires an annual income more than double the area median. Ten years ago, an annual income of $58,000 could buy a typical Portland home (coming in at $230,000). In 2022, as median home prices shot up by 20%, the income required for “typical” was roughly $130,000. According to Zillow, the average rental rate for a two-bedroom unit in Portland, at $2,500, is 19% higher than the national average. To scroll through city rental listings is to quickly understand that the sky’s the limit.

Even the authors of the U.S. News write-up were forced to add a word or two about what’s actually going on around town, daring to acknowledge “a tight market on mid-tier units” and describing the city as at a “crossroads.”

Although the methodology used for the rankings has more than a few holes in it, it can be argued that one element checks out: the “desirability” category.

Portland is desirable. The bulk of its trials and tribulations are being felt because of a tidal wave of hopeful newcomers of all stripes. It’s an inconvenient truth that much of its “livability,” by any meaningful definition, has fallen victim to this success.

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