Portland's Housing Opportunity


I recently went to a community event about sustainable buildings in Portland and have since thought a lot about Portland's so-called housing problem. Did you know that Portland is expecting an increase of 260,000 residents between 2010 - 2035? For a city with a population of 639,863 people as of 2016, that's a sizable increase. Based on those numbers, they're expecting to have to add 123,000 housing units during the same period, with about three-quarters of those, or 93,000, being apartment or condo units.

That's a lot of people. And a lot of housing units... And a lot of energy costs, both during construction and afterward.

So, hopefully now you understand a little bit of Portland's housing problem. But wait! I've been calling at a problem for far too much of this article already. I'd like to put a little spin on this and start calling it Portland's housing opportunity. I know, I know. A little bit cheesy. But seeing this issue as an opportunity is an important step in the process of creating an innovative solution.

I believe this is the perfect opportunity to start a fundamental shift in Portland. If the majority of the new buildings we create are, dare I say it, energy efficient, then we're already a long way towards achieving the city of Portland's goal of reducing local carbon emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and reducing emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

At this local discussion many people had interesting solutions but my favorite was the idea of building passive homes. Passive houses use a combination of well insulated construction and innovative ventilation design to achieve their extremely energy efficient standards. Passive house technology doesn't have to be confined to traditional home style dwellings - they can also be apartments! Portland is actually home to the Orchards at Orenco, a large passive house certified apartment complex that is being rented out as affordable housing. Hearing about this project, piloted by Reach Community Development, was one of my favorite parts of the night. Passive house technology was used in this complex not just to be eco-friendly, but also to make it more affordable for the tenants. Getting evicted often begins with not being able to pay an electric bill, and it snowballs from there. At the Orchards at Orenco the electric bill is a fraction of what it normally costs - sometimes about 90% below normal cost - which helps the tenants there be able to stay in their homes and lead a more stable life. The Orchards at Orenco are also providing valuable information on how well passive house technology translates to apartment buildings, and what the average benefit of the energy efficiency technology is.

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