It hasn’t been long since another neighborhood-changing building boom plowed through the city. Rewind a few years to before the recession, and recall all the condo construction spreading around the city, from the Pearl District to Northeast Fremont Street to the South Waterfront District. As the market burned brighter, builders overdid the building, the economy tanked and hundreds of brand-new condos sat empty. Many were eventually converted into apartments. Like some of the multifamily projects that are part of the current boom, many of those buildings injected new character into existing neighborhoods by way of expanded retail offerings and housing options for young professionals.
The current apartment market is strong. October numbers from Multifamily NW suggested an apartment vacancy rate of just 3.1% — among the lowest in the nation — and landlords aren’t having much trouble filling units. Rents are on the rise, and concessions like a few months of free rent are a perk of the past.
“We had people sleeping on the sidewalks waiting to sign leases,” says Laura Recko, director of fundraising and public relations for REACH Community Development, an affordable housing nonprofit that opened a $50 million, 209-unit affordable housing apartment building in South Waterfront in 2012.
Even so, it’s not hard to hear the strain in many voices when talk turns to the future and apartment projects not yet out of the ground. DiChiara, from C.E. John, says he’s already heard that some lenders are being more cautious about lending for multifamily projects, and Mark D. Barry & Associates’ latest report notes that at least 12,300 new units on top of what’s already being built have been proposed. Many of those may never come to be, but it is still a hefty number, and the amount of activity currently under way seems eerily similar to the condo craze. Everyone knows how that ended.
“People have short memories,” says Myhre, who’s been in the business in Portland for more than two decades. “Every cycle will be overbuilt. It’s unfortunately a byproduct of the free market.”
When this current rush of multifamily housing does finally slow down, Portland will be a different place. In just a few years, apartment projects have transformed places like Southeast Division Street and some areas of North Portland into communities virtually unrecognizable from their former selves. Driven by market demand, building codes and a larger trend toward urbanization and inner-city living, these projects have brought high-density residential and retail destinations to neighborhoods that have historically been dominated by single-family homes and smaller multifamily dwellings. They’ve brought neighborhood standoffs, too, but also led to some compromises and tweaks to the codes that guide development in the city.
The new neighborhoods in the works — the 16 Lloyd District blocks that will be developed starting with Hassalo on Eighth, or the 20 blocks of the Con-way property in Northwest — will also alter what those areas have been for decades past.
The new crop of buildings is just the latest chapter in Portland’s ongoing evolution. The city is expected to continue to grow at a steady clip, adding another 205,000 people by 2035, according to Metro. Those people will need places to live, and many of them will want places that are conveniently located, close to transit, and near the restaurants, bars and shops that give Portland its signature flair, — the kinds of places that are reshaping the city landscape today.