Portland, Oregon was once seen as an up-and-coming city filled with young creatives and a thriving culture. However, in recent years it has faced challenges including rising crime rates, increasing homelessness, and an exodus of residents. This has led many to wonder – can Portland reclaim its former glory days? Here we explore some quick answers to key questions about whether Portland can bounce back.
Has Portland’s population been declining?
Yes, Portland has seen a decline in population over the past couple of years. After decades of growth, the city saw its first population decrease in 2020, with a drop of 0.7%. This continued into 2021, which saw another 1% decline in population. Several factors likely contributed to this, including the COVID-19 pandemic limiting migration as well as civil unrest and rising crime turning some residents away.
Why are people leaving Portland?
There are a few key reasons why people have been leaving Portland recently:
- Crime – Portland has seen spikes in homicides, gun violence, and vandalism. Increased street crime and unrest have made some feel unsafe.
- Homelessness – Portland has struggled with a highly visible homelessness crisis, with large encampments across the city.
- Cost of living – Housing costs in Portland have risen sharply, making the city less affordable for many.
- Civil unrest – Portland has seen frequent protests and clashes between protesters and police, especially focused around racial justice issues.
- COVID-19 – The pandemic led to increased remote work and flexibility, causing some residents to leave for other areas.
Has Portland seen an increase in crime?
Yes, Portland has experienced rising crime rates, especially over the past few years. Some key statistics:
- Homicides in Portland more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, increasing from 32 to 55. They remained high in 2021 with 91 homicides.
- There were over 1,000 shootings in Portland in 2021, more than triple the number from 2020.
- Burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have also seen major increases since 2019.
- Lower-level offenses like vandalism and shoplifting have also risen significantly.
Much of the unrest and violence has centered around ongoing racial justice protests. Portland’s police force has also seen budget cuts and attrition, impacting their response. But the rising crime has reduced many residents’ sense of safety and livability.
How has homelessness changed in Portland?
Portland has long struggled with a sizable homelessness issue. However, by many measures, the problem has grown worse in recent years:
- A 2022 point-in-time count estimated there were over 5,200 people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County, including 3,000 sleeping outside or in shelters.
- Large homeless encampments have sprouted in public spaces across Portland, frustrating residents and businesses.
- City officials have taken some measures like designating sanctioned camping sites, but these have done little to alleviate the highly visible crisis.
- Advocates cite rising housing costs, urban development displacing low-income housing, mental healthcare gaps, and the pandemic as factors worsening homelessness.
Addressing homelessness continues to be a major challenge for Portland as it impacts livability and economic recovery.
How have housing costs changed in Portland?
Housing costs in Portland have risen sharply over the past decade, making the city much less affordable for many residents. Some key trends:
- Portland home values increased 80% over the past 10 years, significantly outpacing wage growth.
- Average Portland apartment rent rose to $1,476 in 2022, up nearly 10% from the prior year.
- Oregon now has the 7th highest housing costs adjusted for income in the U.S.
- Gentrification and urban renewal have led to the displacement of lower-income residents.
- Limited new construction relative to population growth has tightened supply.
Rising prices have priced many out of Portland’s housing market or led to severe cost burdens. Tackling affordability will be key to attracting and retaining residents.
How has the pandemic impacted Portland’s economy and population?
COVID-19 and associated lockdowns and behavioral changes deeply impacted Portland, reshaping migration patterns and the economy:
- Remote work enabled white-collar workers to leave for lower cost areas, reducing influx of new residents.
- Pandemic safety concerns likely discouraged some from moving to denser cities like Portland.
- Portland’s unemployment rate spiked to nearly 15% early in the pandemic before recovering to 3.4% by late 2022.
- Downtown office vacancies rose as companies delayed reopening plans. Retail and food/beverage businesses saw reduced demand.
- Labor shortages exacerbated by the pandemic have hindered economic growth and aggravated costs like housing.
While Portland’s economy is rebounding post-pandemic, behavioral shifts could undermine pre-2020 growth trends.
Has Portland seen an exodus of major companies and employers?
Portland hasn’t seen a massive flight of major employers, but economic headwinds have led some companies to scale back or relocate jobs:
- Nike has been expanding in its Beaverton headquarters but shifted some planned jobs from Portland to other offices.
- Adidas closed its North American headquarters in Portland in 2022, relocating jobs to other hubs.
- Columbia Sportswear moved its headquarters from Portland to Washington in 2021, though maintains a Portland office.
- Intel is Oregon’s largest private employer but has scaled back some operations in the Portland region.
Portland does still have strengths as an employer hub, including its attractiveness for startups and tech talent. But challenges like crime, homelessness, and costs are concerning to businesses.
How does Portland’s crime rate compare to other major US cities?
Portland experienced one of the largest homicide increases from 2019-2020. Its 7.2 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2021 was still lower than many other major metros, but represented a concerning spike versus past years:
|Homicides per 100k in 2021
For other crimes like assault, burglary, and vehicle theft, Portland’s rates remain below most large metros but are trending upwards.
How do Portland residents feel about the city’s direction?
Polling shows locals growing increasingly concerned with Portland’s trajectory:
- A 2021 poll found only 37% rated livability as excellent/good, down from 62% in 2019.
- In that poll, 84% said homelessness was a growing concern.
- A 2022 survey showed only 35% felt the city was heading in the right direction.
- Crime and homelessness rank as top resident concerns in recent surveys.
- Some surveys indicate up to half of Portlanders have considered leaving the city.
Sentiment likely declined further amid renewed 2022 unrest and tent encampment growth. Addressing core issues weighs heavily on locals’ satisfaction.
Have racial justice protests subsided in Portland?
After peaking in 2020 with months of sustained Black Lives Matter demonstrations, protests have continued but generally subsided in Portland:
- Demonstrations flared again in 2022 following incidents like police shootings locally and the Roe v. Wade overturning.
- However, recent protests have been smaller in scale and frequency versus 2020.
- Authorities have taken harsher measures to curb protests following 2020 criticism.
- Fatigue among activists and aggressive police tactics have likely contributed to declining unrest.
- But protests could reignite around trials related to police shootings or other flashpoints.
Though no longer nightly events, protests do persist as an outlet for Portland’s racial tensions and dissatisfaction with policing.
What steps are being taken to address rising crime?
In the face of rising homicides, shootings, and property crime, Portland leaders have taken some actions aimed at improving public safety:
- City Council partly restored previous police budget cuts in late 2021 to increase officer staffing levels.
- Recruitment efforts aim to rebuild depleted officer ranks.
- Tactical unit and uniformed patrols have been expanded.
- Gun violence reduction teams use data-driven efforts to disrupt shootings.
- Crime prevention programs like street outreach aim to break cycles of violence.
- Some traffic divisions were reinstated to increase police visibility and response.
However, police staffing remains below authorized levels. And initiatives to shift traffic enforcement, mental health response, and other duties from police continue.
What is Portland doing to address homelessness and housing affordability?
Portland and Multnomah County have implemented some programs to alleviate homelessness, increase housing access, and improve affordability, though major gaps remain:
- Sanctioned tiny home villages and outdoor shelters offer transitional housing options.
- Millions invest in mental health outreach, addiction treatment, and eviction prevention to reduce inflows.
- Voters passed taxes raising hundreds of millions for homeless services and affordable housing.
- Zoning changes loosen restrictions on density to spur construction of less expensive housing units.
- Rent subsidies, emergency rental assistance, and rapid rehousing help stabilize at-risk renters.
- But investments fall far short of meeting estimated needs.
Local leaders face tough trade-offs balancing investments in homeless services and affordable housing versus other priorities.
Have efforts to clean up homeless encampments been effective?
The proliferation of large homeless encampments has sparked efforts by the city and state to clear public spaces. But these “sweeps” have seen mixed results:
- Frequent camp removals have slowed but not stopped encampment reemergence in many areas.
- Efforts are hampered by court rulings requiring advance notice and strict storage and reuse of possessions.
- Providing shelter space for all displaced camp residents has proven infeasible.
- Some centralized outdoor camping sites have helped consolidate camps but still generated controversy.
- Encampment residents often simply move nearby or return once cleanup crews depart.
Sweeps likely will continue but have not yet curbed Portland’s highly visible crisis in a sustainable manner.
Are downtown businesses still struggling?
Downtown Portland businesses are working to recover but still face challenges:
- Office vacancy rates have declined from a 2020 peak but remain elevated at around 15%.
- Foot traffic and shopping activity pick up but remain below pre-pandemic levels.
- Crime, vandalism, and homelessness drive negative perceptions that deter customers.
- Labor shortages make hiring difficult for many restaurants, hotels, and retailers.
- Remote and hybrid work arrangements limit office worker foot traffic.
- Business associations push for increased police, sanitation, and social services to aid the area.
While improving, downtown lacks the energy that once defined Portland and faces a long path to full recovery.
Have rising costs driven many former residents out of the city?
There are indications Portland’s increasing costs of living have pushed lower-income households out of the city:
- Portland’s Black population fell by 8,500 between 2020 and 2021 amid displacement concerns.
- Areas with high redevelopment pressure like the Pearl District have seen declines in low-income residents.
- Nearly half of Portland tenants are now cost burdened, spending over 30% of income on rent.
- Home ownership is increasingly out of reach, with median home values around $550,000.
- Inmigration has shifted towards higher-income households.
- Outer eastside communities have absorbed many displaced by gentrification.
Preserving housing affordability and economic diversity remains a pressing challenge for Portland.
Portland faces considerable challenges around crime, homelessness, affordability, economic uncertainty, and livability concerns. Recent population and economic trends paint a portrait of a city losing ground and desirability for many residents. However, Portland retains advantages including a skilled workforce, vibrant culture, and natural amenities. Creatively leveraging these strengths while tackling core problems will determine if Portland’s former appeal and promise can be restored. With coordinated efforts on housing, public safety, and inclusive growth, Portland could once again become a destination city. But further deterioration of its reputation and livability could trigger an extended downward spiral. The path forward remains uncertain, but Portland’s leaders and residents have an opportunity to collaboratively work towards renewal.