Oregon Governor Kate Brown issues orders a pause for all Portland metro area counties; Planetizen reports on potential impacts of Biden win; federal unemployment benefits will expire at year end, and it appears unlikely that Congress will take action before then.
Both Oregon and Washington have seen record spikes in the number of new COVID cases over the last few weeks, and leaders in both states are weighing options for controlling the spread of the disease before the holidays. In Oregon, Governor Brown has ordered a two week “pause” for the counties with the highest infection rates, including Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Baker, Union, Marion, Jackson, Umatilla, and Malheur. During the pause, capacity at restaurants, bars, gyms, bowling alleys, and museums will be limited to 50 people, including staff. The Governor is also asking residents to keep social gatherings to 6 people or fewer. The counties included in the pause all have infection rates of at least 200 per 100,000 residents, except for Washington and Clackamas Counties. The Portland Metro’s suburban counties had case counts just under the threshold, but Governor Brown expressed concern over their high daily case counts. Tricia Mortell, Washington County Public Health Manager, issued a statement urging the public to cooperate with the new rules. She emphasized that area hospitals are, quote, “on the verge of becoming overwhelmed.” Cases are also spiking in the Puget Sound region of Washington. The state health agency believes the recent surge is part of a trend that started in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties in mid-September.
The low inventory of homes for sale in the Portland Metro Area continues to drive prices up. The average sale price in the region jumped to $516,500 in October, a new high. And unlike in other years, October did not appear to be the start of a typical winter slowdown. During the first 10 months of 2020, the average sale price in the region was 6.5% higher than in the same period in 2019. The median price now sits at $460,000. Even higher-priced homes are seeing increased interest, due to a lack of inventory. And while there were 7.7% more homes listed in October than September, during the first 10 months of this year new listings were down 7.5%. October’s inventory was 1.1 months, a record low for the region. In addition, the wildfires that swept through the state earlier this fall destroyed 4,000 homes, driving up the number of people looking for a new place to live. Historically low interest rates are also likely driving up regional demand.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, a number of Portalnd Metro Area companies have reported good news in the last few weeks. Portland-based tech company Puppet, which provides software for managing data centers and large computing networks, announced that it is aiming for an IPO in 2021. Puppet would be the first Oregon-based tech firm to hold an initial public offering since 2004. Puppet employs 450 workers, the vast majority of whom are based in Portland. In addition, another Portland tech company is showing signs of growth. Bumped, a marketing technology startup that is pioneering a credit card rewards program that gives users fractional corporate stock shares, announced last week that it has raised $16 million in investments from venture capital firms. In a funding round two years ago, the company raised $14 million. Bumped employs 37 Portland-based workers. In Vancouver, Washington, the recent purchase of an industrial park could signal future growth. New Blueprint Partners and Rabina purchased the Vancouver Technolgoy Center for $35 million. They plan to convert the campus into best-in-class flex, industrial, and office space. According to Rabina president Josh Rabina, the buyers were drawn to the property due to the area’s population growth and large talent pool.
Following Vice President Biden’s victory in the presidential election earlier this month, Planetizen published a summary of what his win could mean for land use, transporation, and climate policies. Biden’s housing plan emphasizes the impact of land use policies on housing affordability, explicitly calling out the racist history of exclusionary zoning. He supports the HOME Act of 2019, which would require states that receive Community Development or Surface Transportation Block Grants to develop an inclusionary zoning strategy. Compared with his bold housing plan, Biden’s transportation agenda is less clear. While he frames his priorities around environmental justice, social equity, and safety, he also calls for large-scale investment in repairing roads, bridges, and highways. Although this focus on road investment does not necessarily indicate a strong commitment to limiting carbon emissions, the President-elect does have a $2 trillion climate change plan that includes overhauls of the nation’s electric grid and transportation industry. Importantly, however, all of his plans would require support from Congress, which could be limited by Republican opposition in the Senate.
The Oregon Employment Department announced earlier this month that it hopes to pay recipients of unemployment assistance “waiting-week” benefits by Thanksgiving. The federal CARES act provided funding to the state earlier this year in order to help pay benefits out to unemployed workers immediately, rather than requiring them to wait one week before filing for assistance. But Oregon has been extremely slow to pay out this benefit to residents who have been left without a job due to the pandemic. Oregon is the only state in the nation that has not yet paid waiting week benefits. According to Employment Department officials, this failure to pay can be traced to the state’s obsolete computer systems. Initially, the state was told that it would have to repay the funds to the federal government if they are not distributed to workers by the end of the year. Now, however, it appears the federal government may show more leniency to the state as it works to distribute the money. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 600,000 Oregon residents have applied for unemployment benefits, and 380,000 have received assistance.
The Portland Tribune reports on the potential impacts of Mingus Mapps replacing Chloe Eudaly on the Portland City Council. Mapps is the former director of Historic Parkrose, and this was his first time running for office. He defeated Commissioner Eudaly with 56% of the vote, and is just the fourth Black Portlander elected to the council in its history. While Eudaly ran in 2016 and again in 2020 as a progressive activist focusing on disability and tenants’ rights, Mapps billed himself as a moderate. His priorities include police reform, homelessness, the ongoing pandemic, and changing the city’s commission form of government. During the campaign, Mapps received support from the real estate and development communities as well as the Portland Police Association and a number of neighborhood groups. After his tenure as director of Historic Parkrose ended in 2018, he worked briefly for Portland’s Office of Community and Civic Life. Commissioner Eudaly is in charge of the office, which has received an unusually large number of personnel complaints over the past year. Mapps cited his experience at the OCCL as the catalyst for his run against Eudaly. While Mapps has done a number of interviews with press and local affinity groups, he has not presented many concrete plans to address his top priorities. He told the Portland Tribune that he is looking forward to working with the other council members on solutions.
Last Tuesday a group of 150 community members rallied in Laurelhurst Park to block the sweep of a homeless camp. In April, the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, or HUCIRP, announced that it would be following guidance from the CDC and limiting sweeps of homeless encampments. But in June, the program changed its policy to allow for the removal of camps with 8 or more structures. Laurelhurst Park is currently home to around 100 campers – so far 15 have been referred to shelters. HUCIRP attempted to coordinate its sweep of the park with the opening of the Mt Scott Community Center shelter. HUCIRP has been removing trash from the park and installed portable toilets in August, but spokeswoman Heather Hafer argues that many campers at Laurelhurst are not in compliance with HUCIRP’s guidelines. Homeless resident JJ says that people feel safe in the park, and that local authorities have not handled outreach to the homeless community well. He adds that sweeps often cause residents to permanently lose their only possessions.
Finally, the New York Times reports that as expanded unemployment benefits and eviction protections expire at the end of the year, millions of Americans who have been thrown into poverty by the pandemic will be left without a safety net. 13 million Americans have been receiving payments through two temporary unemployment programs that are set to expire at the end of December, with no signs that the economy is likely to see significant improvement in the near term. As of October, 3.6 million people nationwide have been out of work for over six months. Expanded unemployment insurance, which provided an extra $600 to people who lost their jobs early on in the pandemic, expired in July. This benefit kept millions of people from falling into poverty, but since then many of those who were able to keep their heads above water are now facing tough choices about which bills to pay. And there are few signs that Congress will take action before the end of the year, despite bipartisan calls for more aid. As of mid-October, 9.3 million people were receiving support through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which will end after next month. But a number of Republican lawmakers have been hesitant to expand the program, due to a belief that unemployment assistance discourages recipients from seeking work. But there are currently very few jobs to apply for, and many people are being left without options. In addition, a large number of traditional stop-gap jobs in the retail and restaurant industries carry high risks of COVID infection. Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies, argues that a delay in benefits could cause irreversible damage to both workers and the economy.