Portland-Vancouver low on housing segregation list

Area has a higher share of mixed-income sites

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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With a higher percentage of mixed-income housing, the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metropolitan area ranks No. 29 in housing segregation by income out of 30 of the nation's largest metro areas, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The share of lower-income households in predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and upper-income households in affluent neighborhoods increased by 6 percentage points in the Portland area since 1980, compared with 14 percentage-point growth nationwide, according to an index devised by the Pew.

Most of the growth in segregation resulted from an increase in the number of upper-income households living in majority upper-income census tracts.

However, segregation was less prevalent in the Portland area than in 28 other large metropolitan areas and in the nation as a whole. About 20 percent of lower-income households live in majority lower-income census tracts in the Portland area, compared with 28 percent nationwide. About 5 percent of upper-income households live in majority affluent census tracts, compared with 18 percent nationwide.

Factors that may have helped the Portland area retain a relatively higher percent of mixed-income housing include the city's slower growth, efforts to curtail the city's smaller urban growth boundary and encouragement of development closer in, a predominantly white population, and less income inequality among its population as compared with metro areas such as Houston, said Charles Rynerson, demographer with Portland State University's Population Research Center.

Slow growth and the urban growth boundary prevent quick development of new, large neighborhoods in the suburbs, which

might lure higher-income families from their older neighborhoods and leave lower-income families in isolation.

Portland has often been referred to as the whitest city in America, and its city limits are, in fact, the whitest among large cities. Portland's metro area is the nation's seventh whitest metro area. About 76.3 percent of the metro area's population is both white and non-Latino. Hence, "white flight" may be less prevalent than in more diverse cities, Rynerson said.

Racial segregation continues to be more prevalent than income segregation, according to the Pew.

"Lower-income white folks might be living near higher-income white folks, and the higher-income white folks may be less uncomfortable with that than with lower-income black folks," Rynerson said.

The metro area's less income segregated neighborhoods also may be the simple reflection of less extremes in income among its population.

"The income distribution might not be as disparate as in some metro areas, metro areas with lots of big companies paying high wages, as well as lots of poor people," Rynerson said. "As a region, we may be more middle class. As a result, you would expect fewer neighborhoods that are either affluent or very poor."

"That's not to say we don't have extremes of wealth and poverty in our community," he added. It has gotten wider since 1980, but compared with those others among the 30 largest metro areas, we may not have as much income inequality."

Some research, including one study by Harvard University, suggests economic segregation results in fewer opportunities for advancement, inequalities in public services, such as education and road and utility maintenance; lower home values and other detrimental effects.

The Pew analyzed income in 2010 and 1980 census tracts to determine the percentage of lower-income and upper-income households located in a tract where a majority was in the same income bracket.

In the Portland area, less than $38,000 per year was the benchmark for lower income; a minimum of $113,000 for upper income.

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