Introduction and Debunking Some Pearl Myths

We welcome Mike Feldman as a new contributor! – Chris

Hi all,

Since Chris was kind enough to make me a contributor, I figure it’s time to introduce myself and contribute. My wife and I moved to Portland about 18 months ago. I’m a just-retired Computer Science professor; my wife is a writer. I like this blog and the other Portland transport sites on the Net. I have no stake in any of these discussions, I’m just a resident who’s interested in this stuff.

I plan to write here now and then. I try to do my homework and write intelligently and civilly. If you think I’ve got my facts wrong, I’m glad to stand corrected as long as you correct me with intelligence and civility. I have better ways to spend my time than to get into rants and shouting matches on a blog. I’ve been there and done that, and have no interest in doing it here.

OK, here’s what got me interested in writing today. Over on the recent streetcar thread, GTinSalem said,

I think they have it all wrong. They shouldn’t be giving abatements or incentives but it should be just the opposite. Make the condo developments pay for the streetcar, include a special tax for condo developments to fund the streetcar. If you want to live in a shoebox, then pay for everything yourself, why should the public at large be forced to give welfare to yuppies living in the Pearl District who have more than enough money to spend on this crap anyway?

Sigh… OK, I want to set the record straight on a couple of things. I wonder how much you really know about the Pearl. Since you and a few others on this blog like to engage in Pearl-bashing, let’s put some facts out for you to work with. Maybe I can debunk a stereotype or two.

It’s been at least 30 years since I was a yuppie, and I’m not rich. I do live in the Pearl, where I could afford this nice condo because I was lucky enough to sell my suburban house in Maryland at the top of the boom. For 32 years I lived on a college teacher’s salary that barely kept up with inflation.

There are some yuppies in the Pearl, but there are also a lot of 60-something geezers like me who like living on one level (no more climbing stairs!) and walking — or taking the Streetcar or a bus — to shops and entertainment. You’d better be ready for a lot more of us, because AARP lists Portland — and the Pearl in particular — as their #2 best place to live. See (I moved here before AARP’s report came out.:-)

As it happens, my condo has about the same number of square feet as that house I sold. It’s not a mansion, but it’s no shoebox either.

My property tax bill was about $10,000. and I have about 1/80 of my building’s residential square footage. Assuming everyone in my building is paying taxes at about the same rate per square foot, my building’s residence owners sent about $800,000. this year to the county and the other taxing entities. (And that’s not counting the stores and offices on the bottom floors.) I have no idea how much my building is getting from the county in services. Is it anywhere near $800k?

And that’s just one of many buildings here. So I don’t think anyone’s giving us welfare. Indeed, according to last year’s State tax report, the River District Urban Renewal Area generated about $18,000,000 in property tax revenue on the excess value (that is — as I understand it — value in excess of what it was expected to be when the URA was established). This is the “increment” in tax-increment financing.

About 30% of my property taxes are going to schools, according to my county tax bill. I have no school-age kids; as far as I know neither does anyone else in my building. So I suppose you could say my building is contributing about $240,000. a year in “welfare” to people who choose to send their kids to Portland public schools. Right?

Not really — part of my taxes pays for your benefits, and part of your taxes pay for mine. That’s how taxes work.

There are some young families in the Pearl, but my guess is they won’t stay very long because there are no schools here for their kids. It’s been proposed to build a school here — that would be great, as it would make the neighborhood family-friendly, which would bridge the gap between the yuppies and the geezers. Of course, the school idea is controversial, and schools cost money to build, so maybe it’ll happen, maybe not.

You may be aware that Erik Sten has proposed sending some of that $18,000,000 excess out to the David Douglas district, in far Southeast where the school population is growing with kids whose families are getting squeezed out of the inner districts by gentrification. (This is obviously a controversial idea, but I support it and I’m amazed that it would even be proposed!)

By the way, no families got squeezed out of the Pearl. There were no residents here, just light industry and an abandoned railroad yard. On the other hand, of about 5000 housing units in the district, about 1000 or 20% — all new — are designated as affordable housing. I wish the percentage were higher, but 1000 units is still 1000 units.

So who’s giving welfare to whom? Nobody, not in my opinion. Let’s see if we can discuss the virtues of the different transport modes without bashing neighborhoods or perpetuating stereotypes or acting belligerent. What do you think?

I know, I know, it’s a blog. But there’s no law against it being a civil and intelligent one.


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