Every mayoral candidate talks about helping low-income renters. But only David Schor has a plan for raising enough money to do so in a major way.
“It would just be a shame if all the work that Portlanders put into building this beautiful city were put to waste because we couldn’t afford to live here.”
— David Schor
The concept Schor describes as the “central plank” of his campaign is a $200 million program to build affordable housing in the city for lower-income Portlanders. He’d pay for it with an 8 percent marginal income tax on all income over $350,000. He says about 2,000 to 6,000 households would pay each year: literally the city’s top 1 percent.
He wants to use that money to gradually transition to something like 15 or 20 percent of the city’s housing being owned by the public, which he sees as a model successful in many cities outside the United States. He’d combine this with a raft of other tenant-support measures like community land trusts and support for tenant-led advocacy and organizing.
“If we allow us to be taken out one by one, we will — we’ll all be displaced one by one,” Schor said in a March 24 interview with BikePortland. “It would just be a shame if all the work that Portlanders put into building this beautiful city were put to waste because we couldn’t afford to live here, [if the city] were handed off to a completely different set of people that didn’t make that investment themselves.”
For better or worse, lower-income housing is clearly Schor’s main issue. It’s not that he’s uninformed about other things — as much as any candidate in the race, he’s built an understanding of how local government policies work and can hold forth calmly on everything from tax increment financing to racial profiling. But outside his core area, Schor gets weaker on describing an actual course of action. He admits that he has no clear road map to preventing Portland roads from crumbling and no specific understanding of where or how to build the singletrack he thinks the city needs. (Schor’s deepest personal connection to biking is mountain-bike recreation.)
Still, Schor isn’t a one-issue candidate. He has strong opinions about transportation, for one thing, and a clear sense of how it fits into a successful city.
Here at BikePortland, we didn’t originally intend to include Schor on our list of mayoral interviews, instead drawing the line at the three candidates (Jules Bailey, Sarah Iannarone and Ted Wheeler) who have raised enough cash to hire dedicated campaign staff. But after seeing him in two debates and hearing from several readers, we decided Schor was worth talking to as well.
Here’s what we learned from the conversation:
Like every candidate we’ve spoken with, Schor supports the proposed 10-cent gas tax ballot issue even though he feels it raises only a “drop in the bucket” of the city’s needs for biking and walking infrastructure. “It has the potential to be regressive,” he said, “but is also similar to a carbon tax, so on balance I think it’s a good way to go forward.”
Like every candidate we’ve spoken with, Schor says safety should be the top priority guiding road investments, starting with safety for people walking and biking. “We need to make the investment in east Portland that we have not been making for the last 30 years,” he said. “It’s a safety thing, and east Portland is where the safety problems are the worst, so it’s obviously where the investment needs to be focused.” Schor says there should still be room for targeted investments in bike infrastructure elsewhere; he mentioned Barbur and Terwilliger as places in need of it.
Schor lives in a six-plex near Clinton Street in southeast Portland. He’s a fan of the new traffic diverter near his place. “It’s great,” he said. “I don’t take the same route that I used to drive; I have to turn on specific streets to get to my house from different directions, but I’m totally fine with that, because I see the manifest improvement for people who are biking on that street and I know how important that arterial is for people who are commuting in and out of downtown Portland. It’s a very good tradeoff and it’s making the best use of our existing infrastructure. … There’s going to be some places where we slow the [driving] system down, but the more that that motivates people to get on transit and on bikes and walk around, then the more we’re achieving our purpose.”
More firmly than anyone we’ve talked to, Schor opposes the Portland Development Commission funding itself by building parking garages. “It just seems like a perverse incentive” for the government to keep encouraging driving, he said. Because he feels the PDC’s current revenue system — tax increments from urban renewal areas — focus intense investment on particular areas, he thinks it should possibly cease to exist despite its past effectiveness at raising money for projects like as Portland Streetcar.
On neighborhood parking issues, Schor is uneasy about charging for street parking because “my understanding is the actual permit charges could get pretty steep pretty fast.” But he said he supports “rationing parking spaces” with pricing, perhaps using a sliding scale by income to prevent housing displacement.
He supports shifting the 9.5 million of Metro regional flex funds currently spent on freight toward walking and biking infrastructure — though he confused Metro with Multnomah County as the agency in charge of that money.
On his affordable housing income tax, Schor says he doesn’t think many wealthy people would move out of Portland rather than pay it. “They understand the value of what they would be getting for the money,” Schor said. “A lot of people who would have already left town for tax burden reasons have already left.” In any case, he said, he’s open to other suggestions, but feels that he’s the only candidate proposing a revenue stream large enough to actually solve the housing problem for poor Portlanders.
For middle-income Portlanders and market-rate housing, Schor says the main solution is more housing supply, starting with changing development fee structures and other policies to incentivize more buildings like the six-plex he lives in. But he balks at that level of development in the city’s widespread R5 zones, saying it’s a better fit in R1 and R2.5 zones.
Schor seems to know policing issues better than many, having worked as a lawyer for the ACLU and Oregon Justice Resource Center. He says disproportionate police stops of Portlanders of color, which statistics show fall even harder on people biking or walking, is “totally inappropriate” but that “right now we’re basically blind” because the Portland Police Bureau doesn’t collect detailed enough statistics about where and who the problem is coming from. Most police do a good job, he says: “It’s a small percentage that is doing most of the discriminatory enforcement.”
Schor has maybe the sweetest part-time job of anyone in the race: in addition to working as an assistant attorney general for the Oregon Department of Justice, he picks up seasonal shifts at Mount Hood Meadows snowboarding around to locations on Mount Hood to check out the conditions there.
Schor’s first bike was a Huffy BMX that he got while growing up in Corvallis. He upgraded to a 10-speed as a teen and began using a bike for transportation after that. Though he has sometimes commuted by bike in the past, his most recent ride was on the Springwater Corridor in summer 2015.
If you’d like to hear our full one-hour exchange with Schor, check it out below:
We won’t be taking four hours to do a full transcript of the talk with Schor. And despite the many other candidates also saying remarkably progressive things about transportation, Schor will be our last big sit-down interview before the primary. This’ll give us the time to do the play-by-play election coverage that will keep people informed.
Election Day is May 17. If no candidate gets more than half the vote, the top vote-winners will advance to the general election in November.
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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David is our other ‘Bernie’. Thanks for this article, Jonathan. I really wish David would have been in the ‘Bigger’ debates with Sarah, Jules, and Ted.
Glad you appreciate our work on this. Just to be clear though, the article was written by Michael. He’s done a great job on these interviews hasn’t he?!
Oops. Yes he is. Sorry, Michael. I love the interviews!
Take a look at the road conditions and then tell me it makes sense for the city to own 15-20% of housing. Besides, the more city owned property there is the less the city collects in property taxes, which means that the budget gets stretched even further.
Instead of raising $200 million to build housing, we should be spending that money on making real improvements to bike infrastructure. The city, and cyclists, should be happy to see property values increase because that means the city gets more money to spend on making Portland an ACTUAL Platinum city instead of whatever it is we have now.
If so many cities the world over can reduce socioeconomic displacement by providing public housing, then why is it necessarily impossible to do so here?
“Take a look at the road conditions”
I do not understand why tackling the housing emergency prevents Portland from simultaneously improving active transport.
I think his point was that if we cannot keep our roads in good condition, will we do any better with a stock of housing? I’m generally in the camp that thinks government can do things well, but I think this is a legitimate question.
trimming the bloated public safety budget a few percent would allow us to increase our active transportation budget 10x. instead, portland has repeatedly slashed the active transportation budget to a little over a third of 2007 levels.
Is this the same budget many of us wanted to use to patrol for cell phone usage and other dangerous driving enforcement on Williams and elsewhere?
Housing has a stable income stream (renters), whereas roads are primarily funded by gas taxes set by non-Portland legislators. Rents in public housing need only cover maintenance of the structures and administration, not profit – though it’s likely the City might contract out management.
I’m not happy. Portland’s housing prices are currently increasing at the fastest rate in the nation — ~12% YOY. While you may be secure, a significant percentage of Portland residents struggle to afford housing and far too many have already been displaced for socioeconomic reasons.
Becoming the next San Francisco is a fate far, far worse than carefully increasing in density to handle growth.
I’m quite happy, even my humble east PDX ranch house has gained me some pretty nice equity. Happy trails!
Because of measure 47 (property taxable value can only raise 3% a year) increasing property value doesn’t really help Portland receive more taxes. Most homes true market value are way over the taxable value. My house for example is worth about 66% more than the taxable value. So lets say my house stops increasing in value now and never increases. Due to measure 47 my houses taxable value can only increase 3% a year. That means it would take 22 years until the taxable value equals the market value.
Most of the city is in a similar boat where the taxable value is significantly below the market value. This is especially true in areas that have gentrified since 1996 (when measure 47 came into affect). Home values have gone up massive amounts, while the taxable value has only grown by 60% in the 20 years. While poorer areas haven’t had home values increase as fast, leading to the taxable value being close to the market value. This means that there are some houses that are worth 600K that are paying taxes as if the house is worth 150K, while some houses worth 150K are paying taxes on the whole 150K.
This all leads to the city being massively shorted on property taxes in comparison to using the market value. And acts as a subsidy to those who can afford the expensive homes in gentrified areas.
While agree Measure 47 runs counter to the public interest, some of the beneficiaries are those who are long-time residents in the “gentrified areas” who have been there since before they were gentrified. Their houses have increased massively in value, and if they had to pay taxes on the full market value, many would be forced out. So Measure 47 helps increase the economic diversity in neighborhoods where prices are rising quickly, slowing gentrification, at least until taxable value catches up with assessed value.
when the great flood permanently inundates the 97214?
The great immigrant flood already has!
The insanity in Oregon is that very little can reset the assessed value. That was “drown it in a bathtub” small-government policy to permanently ruin the state’s finances. This and the state’s obsession with dedicated revenue ties the government’s hands at governing and makes the bureaucrats complacent.
I think we all agree that Granny shouldn’t be forced out of her home. In policy that’s only true if she owns the place. As a renter, she’ll just have to rely on the market to work out its magic on her behalf. We take it as an article of faith that property tax caps are good, but rent control (aided by said caps) is bad, mmmkay? Something’s got to give between all these things.
IMO, Schor nailed the active transport questions both in content and tone. Why did he not get a BikeWalkVote endorsement? In particular, no other candidate pointed out the elephant in the room — the “drop in the bucket” funding that our supposedly active transport-friendly politicians have historically budgeted.
I strongly believe that public housing is the single most effective way to fight displacement of socioeconomic minorities.
The demolition of rental housing and the building of Renaissance homes concrete-bunker McMansions needs to stop. Instead of discriminatory zoning that subsidizes and promotes the demolition of rental stock in R5 zones, we need policy that protects and expands neighborhood-appropriate rental housing (like Schor’s now illegal 6-plex).
Not directly on-topic, but you might like this article, Soren (I did):
“I’m an American living in Sweden. Here’s why I came to embrace the higher taxes.”
Michael, thanks so much for these interviews! However, I don’t see the audio player or link for this one. Could you add it?
Drat! Sorry about that. The link is here, but we’ll also get that audio embed in the post ASAP.
More taxes? No thanks. Prop taxes in my crappy east PDX hood have taken a big jump already.
Property taxes in OR cannot increase more than 3% per year (dating to the measure 47 assessment) regardless of how much property values increase. This property tax cap is a massive subsidy that predominantly benefits the wealthiest Oregonians.
Except you want people ( most not wealthy) to pay taxes on “values”! They have zero control over and “income” they do not receive.
with all due respect, you have absolutely no idea what i want.
Since you declared that 47 was a massive subsidy, explain yourself.
Why should someone be taxed on “Income” they do not receive.
IF homes double in value but I am not selling, why should I be taxed?
It’s not an income tax, it’s a tax on the value of your property. It’s a regressive tax, because those who may not have a lot of money but have lived in a house for a long time pay the same as their richer neighbors.
Though I don’t, one could view Measure 47 as a way to make property taxes less regressive (and I think that’s how it was originally sold, though the language was more focused on keeping the elderly in their homes).
Of course it is not an “Income” tax, except it treats paper value as income since you are being taxed on it.
Property taxes are not regressive if they are assessed when the property is sold. They are regressive if they are being assessed as basically income when no income is received.
If they’re assessed when the house is sold, they are a capital gains tax. But they can be regressive even then — if all the houses in an area have increased by the same amount, the “comparable” value of your house may not have changed, even if the list price has increased dramatically. In the US, this is mostly offset by excluding the first $500K of gain on your primary residence.
There is no “income” component of a property tax — the tax is based on the market value of a property. There is no suggestion that this represents money that you have or are getting.
But I agree that property taxes are regressive, though perhaps less so than an arts tax.
Portland has done a stellar job with the tax money it collects already. I’m sure the city would not squander an extra $200 million.
I am not even close to making it to the 1% income so it would not matter to me but it does not take a genius to figure that many of the people qualifying for this can read a map and only have to move a few miles to get out of the city limits. Even our Mayor Charlie Hales moved to Washington to avoid paying Oregon income taxes from 2004-2009.
So all the people able to afford the $800k+ mcmansions that keep replacing the more affordable bungalows around town leave city limits, and incentive for constructing them vanishes. Sounds like a win to me.
Then they drive into town, and get all road-ragey when they think some cyclist is making them late for their 9-o’clock.
here’s the audio of the interview in convenient MP3 form
“He’d pay for it with an 8 percent marginal income tax on all income over $350,000. He says about 2,000 to 6,000 households would pay each year: literally the city’s top 1 percent.”
LOL. Most rich people in the Portland metro already live in the surburbs – Schor’s plan can drive that figure considerably higher.
It would make high-end housing in Portland considerably more affordable however…
I don’t see many people making $500k a year choosing to leave Portland to move to Beaverton just to save $12k in taxes a year, given that they’re already paying $154k in other taxes.
Every person you save is one other person you’ve effectively banished from town.
It’s true whether we’re talking about that IZ condo, public housing, rent control, increased taxes and any every other aspect of a potential plan.
Never underestimate the extremes some people will go to avoid paying a tax. Of course, they’d’ve probably already moved to Vancouver.
I was under the impression that moving to Vancouver didn’t exempt you from income earned in Oregon.
It doesn’t, but you are (probably, I’m not in a position to be sure) exempted from taxes on investment income, which for some people can be worth considering. And if you can arrange to work a few days a week from home, you may be able to reduce your “Oregon” income substantially. Or not. Don’t take your tax advice from me!
“Never underestimate the extremes some people will go to avoid paying a tax.”
Currently, high-income individuals pay 9% in Oregon tax at the margin, if they live or work in Oregon. Shor’s proposal would up that to 17% in Oregon and Portland (plus the marginal Federal income tax, of course). That’s a pretty hefty savings for moving yourself and your job north of the river, since then you would pay neither state nor city income tax. You’d save 8% by moving yourself and your job to an Oregon suburb.
One of the reasons why the Multnomah County income tax was short-lived was that there was evidence that Multnomah County was losing affluent people to the suburbs. Rich people move around, just like everyone else, so its not just a question of keeping your current residents, but being able to attract new high-income individuals.
“You’d save 8% by moving yourself and your job to an Oregon suburb.”
Someone earning $500,000 after deductions and exemptions would pay only ~2.4% more according to Schor’s proposal.
Of course it’s always “peanuts” when it’s other peoples money.
“Someone earning $500,000 after deductions and exemptions would pay only ~2.4% more according to Schor’s proposal.
And yet, Shor thinks that his tax is going to collect $200 million from **somebody** – somebody is paying more than mere “peanuts”.
I assume that the $200 million is per year (he doesn’t have the details of his tax proposal on his mayoral web site).
Taking his high estimate of 6,000 high-income households – that would be about $35,000 of average tax a household. His low estimate of 2,000 high-income households would be an average tax of $100,000 a household.
Nobody is going to decide where to live and work based entirely on tax considerations, but people do take it into consideration. If moving one mile away outside of Portland and moving your office to Beaverton saves you $100,000 a year, a lot of people subject to Shor’s proposed tax would seriously consider moving.
As I noted previously, most rich people in the Portland metro area already live in the suburbs – the question is how much is it worth to you to live and work in Portland, when you can save a sizable tax bill by moving you and your job outside the Portland city limits.
Moving your business outside city limits is not without cost. First, the upfront cost of moving it, which is probably a whole lot more than 2.4% of the annual income. Second, the loss of employees unwilling to commute.
If we take the tech community as an example, it would make a lot more sense for every tech company to set up shop in Beaverton or Hillsboro – nevermind the taxes, the cost of office space is much, much lower. Except that the tech community needs employees, and a significant portion of tech employees don’t want to live or work in Beaverton or Hillsboro, they want to live and work in Portland. Some of them even choose to live here in part because of cultural things like affordable housing initiatives.
This extends to business owners. You could move your business and residence outside of city limits, if you want to no longer be part of the city. For any wealthy Portland resident, they chose to live here for a reason and it’s probably worth more than 2.4% more taxes.
I’ve noted that you make a lot of questionable statements without any evidence.
“I’ve noted that you make a lot of questionable statements without any evidence.”
US Census Quickfacts, median household income:
Washington County $65,272
Clackamas County $64,700
Clark County $59,551
Given that all three suburban counties are noticeably more affluent than Portland, and that the three suburban counties together have about 1.5 million people, compared to Portland’s 620,000, it is a reasonable inference that most rich people in the Portland metro area live in the suburbs.
I suppose you could argue that the super-rich (as opposed to the merely affluent) prefer to live in Portland rather than the suburbs, but looking at the North Shore of Lake Oswego, West Linn, and similar wealthy suburban areas would disabuse you of that notion.