Created on Thursday, 18 May 2017 | Written by Mark Kirchmeier
"I was on the edge of a cliff, hanging by my fingernails, fearing that my kids and I would have to leave Portland," Roscoe Ryan remembers.
The 41-year-old single mother had been renting a home in Portland's St. Johns neighborhood for three years when the bad news came. "The landlady told me she wanted to sell the house, and I would have to move," she recalls.
Then the owner offered to sell the 800-square-foot house to Ryan for $290,000. Ryan, who earns $30,000 a year working at an organic grocery store, initially was hopeful. But when lenders told her she'd need to make a $35,000 down payment to qualify for a mortgage, she balked. Scraping together a down payment bigger than her annual salary seemed impossible. Ryan began scrambling for alternatives.
In Portland's runaway housing market, residents without the means to own homes face three options: shell out ever-larger portions of their paychecks for rent; move from familiar, amenity-rich neighborhoods to less expensive, less desirable suburbs; or both.
A surge of policy responses — from a locally approved bond measure that will fund development of affordable rental housing units to a proposed bill in Salem that would overturn Oregon's ban on rent control — have focused on subsidizing and regulating the rental housing market.
While these measures have brought some comfort and hope, they've brought little relief to residents wanting a surer defense against the risks of spiraling housing-cost inflation and displacement: homeownership. Fifteen years ago, less-wealthy Portlanders more easily crossed the homeownership threshold. But today's homeownership market is shutting out lower-income residents like Ryan, forcing middle-income residents to make tough compromises, and kicking historically disadvantaged residents of color further to the curb.
This series, part of the Open: Housing journalism project, will look at causes, impacts and solutions to the rising — and unequal — barriers of entry to Portland's increasingly exclusive homeownership class.
Next in the series: The effect of housing costs on Portland's minority residents. A longer version of this story and other parts in the series can be found at www.OpenHousing.net