Are people moving out of Portland?

Portland, Oregon has long been known as a hip, progressive city with a vibrant culture and burgeoning tech scene. However, in recent years there have been signs that the city’s rapid growth may be slowing down. Rising housing costs, increasing homelessness, and protests have led some to question if people are starting to move out of Portland in large numbers. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the data and trends around whether Portland residents are truly leaving the city behind.

Is Portland’s population declining?

Portland has experienced rapid population growth over the past decade. From 2010 to 2020, the city’s population increased by over 150,000 residents to reach a total population of 652,503 as of the 2020 census. This represents a growth rate of around 15% in the 2010s.

While Portland’s population is still rising overall, the rate of growth has slowed in recent years. From 2017 to 2018, Portland’s population grew by just over 1%. And from 2018 to 2019, the growth rate declined to just 0.4%.

So while it’s true that Portland’s breakneck pace of expansion has cooled, the data does not actually show an outright decline in total population so far. The vast majority of evidence suggests Portland is still gaining more new residents than it is losing on an annual basis. But the margins have shrunk significantly.

Have more people been moving out of Portland than moving in?

Along with slowing population growth, some have pointed to Portland’s falling migration and immigration rates as signs that more people are leaving the city.

Portland has historically seen strong immigration from abroad and high rates of domestic migration. But the data shows these trends have reversed in recent years.

From 2010 to 2015, over 50,000 more people moved into Multnomah County, where Portland is located, than moved out each year on net. However, from 2016 to 2019, the county has seen a net outflow of residents, with more people moving away from the area to other parts of the country.

Similarly, international immigration to Oregon as a whole has fallen by 25% from 2016 to 2018.

So while Portland’s overall population continues to rise, fewer Americans are moving there and immigration has declined. This suggests Portland’s shrinking growth rate is indeed partially driven by more people moving away. But it’s important to note the net outbound migration is still relatively small compared to the total population.

What factors may be causing people to leave?

If more people are moving out of Portland, why might they be leaving? Here are some of the most commonly cited factors:

Housing costs

Portland home prices have risen rapidly in recent years, spurred by high demand and insufficient new construction. The median home value in Portland jumped 14% from 2020 to 2021 alone. That’s caused Oregon as a whole to have one of the tightest housing markets and least affordable homes in the country. Many households are struggling to keep up with rising rents and mortgage payments.


Portland has one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness nationwide. Affordable housing shortages and a visible unhoused population have led to concerns about livability and safety in some neighborhoods. Cleaning up encampments and providing shelter and services to those in need remains a complex challenge.


Crime rates have increased over the past few years, especially shootings and homicides. While Portland remains one of the safer big cities overall, some residents have expressed concerns about gun violence and the “lawlessness” in a minority of areas.


Oregon has one of the highest income tax burdens of any state, especially on high-earners. The state and city’s progressive tax schemes may be causing some individuals or businesses to seek lower rates elsewhere.

Protests and political environment

Portland has been an epicenter of racial justice and anti-establishment protests, especially in 2020 following George Floyd’s murder. The political tensions and civil unrest may not appeal to all.

COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted urban life and caused many to re-evaluate where they want to live. With more flexibility to work remotely, some Portland families have looked to the suburbs or other states.

Which neighborhoods are losing the most residents?

Population data shows declines in Portland residents over the past few years have not been evenly distributed across the city. Rather, they’ve been concentrated most heavily in the urban core close to downtown.

Some of Portland’s central neighborhoods have seen population drops of 5-10% or more from 2015 to 2021, including Lloyd District, Old Town/Chinatown, and Goose Hollow. Central eastside areas like Buckman have also lost residents.

By comparison, many suburban neighborhoods in east and west Portland have continued growing by double digit percentages. Outer SE and SW Portland neighborhoods like Lents, Brentwood-Darlington, South Burlingame, and Multnomah have all added over 1,000 residents this decade.

This reinforces the notion that rising inner city housing costs could be pushing some residents further out into the suburbs or fringe neighborhoods in search of affordability. But Portland as a whole remains highly desirable and competitive for buyers and renters.

How much have home values changed?

One clear indicator of economic trends in Portland is changes in the housing market and home values over time. Here is a table showing the median sale price for homes in Portland from 2016 to 2021:

Year Median Sale Price
2016 $359,000
2017 $390,000
2018 $415,000
2019 $449,000
2020 $475,000
2021 $549,000

As you can see, median sale prices for Portland homes have increased by over 50% from 2016 to 2021. That translates to roughly 10% annual price appreciation throughout the strong seller’s market of the late 2010s and 2020s.

This dramatic rise in costs largely explains why some middle and low income residents may feel priced out of Portland’s central city. Homeownership and renting has become less affordable for many.

How have rental prices changed?

Alongside rising housing costs, rental prices have also been trending sharply upward throughout Portland over the past decade. Here is a table showing the median rent price for a 1-bedroom apartment in Portland from 2016 to 2021:

Year Median 1BR Rent
2016 $1,100
2017 $1,200
2018 $1,325
2019 $1,400
2020 $1,450
2021 $1,600

Median rents for 1-bedroom apartments have risen around 45% from 2016 to 2021. That’s an average annual rent growth of nearly 9% per year. With rents taking up a larger chunk of incomes, it’s understandable why renters would consider less expensive cities.

How does Portland compare nationally?

To put Portland’s population and housing trends into perspective, it helps to compare them against nationwide patterns. The charts below show Portland’s growth versus other major US cities:

Population Change 2010-2020

City Population Increase
Seattle +20%
Austin +20%
Charlotte +19%
Phoenix +15%
Portland +15%
Nashville +14%
Denver +13%

Home Price Change 2016-2021

City Home Price Change
Phoenix +57%
Austin +45%
Seattle +44%
Portland +53%
Tampa +52%
Miami +47%

The data shows that Portland’s population growth, while slowing in recent years, has still outpaced most major metros nationwide over the full 2010 to 2020 decade. Home prices have also risen very quickly in Portland, but no faster than other leading western cities like Phoenix, Seattle, and Denver.

In other words, the housing and affordability challenges facing Portland mirror national trends in popular, growing cities across the country. Portland doesn’t appear to be outlier.

What does the future look like for Portland?

Looking ahead, Portland is expected to continue growing overall, but at a slower pace than the boom years of the early 2010s.

Portland’s population is projected to rise by another 125,000 residents between 2020 and 2040 according to estimates from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. However, the annual growth rate will moderate around 1% moving forward.

New construction has also picked up over the past few years, as developers respond to tight housing supply. If inventory continues expanding, it could provide some relief to rising rents and home prices.

However, affordability is expected to remain a persistent concern in Portland. The city will have to address housing shortages and infrastructure needs to accommodate the incoming wave of new residents.

Local policymakers also face challenges around homelessness, inequality, climate change and public services. Solving these systemic issues will take coordinated efforts between government, businesses and nonprofits.

In the end, Portland is still one of the most desirable metropolitan areas in the country. Its overall population will likely continue growing for decades to come. But the composition of residents may shift, with more middle and high income households moving to the suburbs while lower income groups concentrate in the urban core.

Managing Portland’s growth sustainably and equitably will require holistic, creative thinking from leaders across the city’s vibrant communities. If they work together, Portland can retain its distinctive charm and pioneering spirit while evolving into an even more inclusive city of opportunity for all.


Portland is not emptying out. The data shows the city’s overall population continues growing, while growth rates slow and housing costs rise sharply amid urban growing pains.

Compared to other major cities, Portland’s challenges around affordability and livability are not unique. And projections foresee steady population increases going forward.

But shifts in migration patterns and demographics do reveal problems of inequality and imbalance that could threaten Portland’s cherished identity. Coping with the downsides of popularity and prosperity won’t be easy.

Portland’s future remains bright. But local leaders and engaged residents will need to guide the city thoughtfully toward inclusive, sustainable growth through the 2020s and beyond. With pragmatic collaboration, Portland can manage change while retaining its creative soul.