There was a time when the west side of Foster provided the last great hope of close-in Portland at a bargain price. There was also a time when Foster was a forgotten part of the city, thus the low MSRP for housing. With the discount came artists, urban farmers, young families, retired punk rockers, kidless couples. They joined older residents who lived in the neighborhood for generations; a once-prominent Russian community; mostly working class folk who maintained an almost-suburban ethos in the middle of the city; and no shortage of tweakers. It was an odd mix of new transplants, old-time residents, and a changing but still dynamic demographic. And as such, someone discovered the bargain. Lots of ’em did.
Portland Monthly name-dropped Foster-Powell as one of three up-and-coming neighborhoods to keep an eye on in 2010. Two years before that, an article in the Portland Mercury proclaimed the end of “Felony Flats” as we know it. In that article, it was pointed out that neighborhood advocates (specific kudos were given to the Mt. Scott-Arleta NA) had overcome a once-persistent problem of meth, drug houses and crime, creating a greater sense of community and laying the groundwork for what now is becoming a very family-friendly area. And just this Spring the Willamette Week caught on to the secret, too, recognizing the importance, vibrancy and sheer radness of Foster’s night (bar, food, music) scene.
One thing these articles had in common was an underlying theme of Foster-Powell (and Mt. Scott-Aleta, too, as the writers rarely get their geography totally right) being an affordable refuge where you could still get the last vestiges of “the real Portland.”
It’s no wonder, then, that the 97206 zip code continues to be one of the fastest selling neighborhoods in Portland, as per Portland Business Journal.
But with all this as the backdrop, the story of people moving to the Foster-area because of its affordability is becoming a rarity. Relative to other parts of close-in Portland, sure, maybe there’s still a bargain to be had. But more and more people are moving here because they want to be here. (Yeah, here!) And with that demand comes a higher MSRP. If you bought a house two years ago, good for you, you probably would have paid 20% more this summer for the same house. If you bought ten years ago, take solace in the fact you’d have paid at least 50% more, if not twice as much, if you had to do it again now.
If you rent? Good luck moving into the neighborhood now. It may seem more gradual and less steep than value increases in other neighborhoods, but that might not be so true. As it was recently pointed out by FuckingFoster on Twitter, a nearby apartment complex was recently purchased and rents jacked up to the tune of $1,025/month for a tad more than 500 square-feet of one-bedroom living. That apartment complex is on SE 72nd, just south of Foster, and was reportedly sold for $5,300,000; seven years prior, it was bought for $3,250,000. Former tenants, as per FuckingFoster, were reportedly given eviction notices prior to the subsequent increase in rent.
So what does this mean for the neighborhood as a whole? We know that neighborhoods change, and we know that Portland as a whole is getting more expensive. We don’t count ourselves as anti-transplant, anti-newbie, or anti-development, but we do see the value in preserving a certain character and seeing our neighborhood grow in a sustainable fashion. And with that, we see the benefit of creating affordable housing in the neighborhood. This can be done in a couple ways: increase the supply of housing to limit how much the demand can push up rental/purchase prices, OR build affordable housing. In reality, both will have to happen. And that’s true for the city as a whole, or so we’d presume. In regards to the former option, the market will dictate that and developers will build more housing as they see dollar signs; that would apply to Foster itself, too, as zoning changes and demand will make multi-unit housing and mixed-use development more viable. As for the latter, creation of affordable housing, things get a little trickier. In many cases, there would need to be an incentive for a developer to build affordable housing. Without the incentive, options are limited, but there are still places to turn to: non-profit developers, community development corporations, and the City.
Foster Road sits in an Urban Renewal Area, mostly thanks to it feeding into the Lents Town Center and being the main commercial corridor that connects inner-SE Portland to the Lents neighborhood. While much of the city’s renewal efforts are focused on the Lents Town Center, the city (PDC) does own property on the western stretch of Foster. One site in particular, across the street from the Portland Mercado on SE 72nd, and just north and west of the aforementioned Mitchell Court Apartments, could be earmarked for future affordable housing. The city has recently pledged to allocate more urban renewal funds toward the creation of affordable housing, and the SE 72nd property could benefit from that. Of the city’s pledged $67 million, $7.5 million is being made available to spend on affordable housing in the Lents Urban Renewal Area.
Currently, the Lents Town Center is seeing a lot of proposals for development. And if plans go accordingly, new development could bring 240 units of housing to the intersection of 92nd and Foster, of which 60% will be designated as affordable. So with a good stock of affordable housing already existing and soon coming online in the Lents Town Center, perhaps the city should devote some of that funding for low-income units along the western stretch of Foster, where the cost of living has made housing out of reach for many of the same people who would have sought out the neighborhood 10 years ago; or for working families who may be seeing their rents increase too much and could be forced to leave the neighborhood all together.
If Lents can be an example, we know that advocacy goes a long way. That neighborhood pushed and pushed and pushed to get the city to be more active, planful, and serious about development in the Town Center. After years of advocating, some of their hopes are coming to fruition. With the western stretch of Foster seeing new investment, and much more to come, perhaps advocating for what kind of development we’d like to see would be wise. (The big difference along our stretch of Foster, though, is that the city doesn’t own much land, which means we’re more at the discretion of developers.) If we don’t, we may lose an opportunity to get ahead of a potentially inevitable and irreversable change in demographic, level of sustainability and equity, and overall neighborhood character.