Portland-area housing market remains ultra-competitive despite fewer sales

Elliot Njus | The Oregonian/OregonLiveBy Elliot Njus | The Oregonian/OregonLive
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on August 12, 2016 at 11:26 AM, updated August 12, 2016 at 5:01 PM

The Portland-area housing market cooled off in July, though would-be buyers likely won’t feel much relief.

More homes went on the market while the number of sales slowed, a report from the Regional Multiple Listing Service showed. Even so, the supply of homes for sale remained slim overall, and prices moved higher. The median home price rose to $391,000, up 11.4 percent from a year earlier.

The 2,776 homes sold in July represent a drop of nearly 20 percent from a year earlier, in part reflecting the slim supply of homes for sale.

Pending sales were also down 5.5 percent from July 2015, suggesting the sales slump will continue into at least late summer.

But homes listed on the market sold in an average of 30 days in July, two weeks faster than a year earlier.

If sales continued at the same clip, every home on the market would sell in 1.9 months, well short of the 6-month supply that indicates a market balanced between willing buyers and sellers. Current conditions indicate a strong seller’s market, which is driving prices higher.

Sales activity jumped in the North of 26 area of Washington County and the Tigard-Wilsonville area.

But supply-constrained areas in North Portland, Hillsboro-Forest Grove, Gresham-Troutdale and Lake Oswego-West Linn all saw above-average price increases.

— Elliot Njus

enjus@oregonian.com
503-294-5034
@enjus

Reposted from Oregon live

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A San Francisco Investment Firm Is Snatching Up Old Town Real Estate

A San Francisco Investment Firm Is Snatching Up Old Town Real Estate

It’s Already Bouncing the Boiler Room, and Others Are Worried

JASON STURGIL

ON AUGUST 11, Old Town karaoke mecca the Boiler Room announced new landlords were pushing it out of its corner space at NW 3rd and Davis after 15 years.

The bar’s fans immediately did what Portlanders do these days—raged on Facebook and elsewhere against the loss of another city institution. It didn’t help that the company that’s declining to renew the Boiler Room’s five-year lease,Swift Real Estate Partners, is based in San Francisco. The well-trod anger over Bay Area money having its way with Portland was unavoidable. Stories emerged of people leaving drunken, angry voicemails at Swift’s headquarters after the Mercury reported the company’s name.

Still, the Boiler Room’s impending closure has a different flavor than what Portland’s used to. Often when spots close, it’s because they can’t come to agreement on a proposed rent hike (like the Matador), or are hurting for business (P.R.E.A.M.), or there are major renovations in the works (Magic Garden). None of those factors were apparently at play in this case.

“The Boiler Room’s last night will be September 20,” the bar’s former general manager, Mike Reed, posted on Facebook on Thursday. “Not because of problems or city regulators, not because of customer service issues, fights, poor management, or even lack of revenue. The Boiler Room is closing because apparently the new Californian investment group/new landlord projects more revenue with a potential ‘Starbucks’ type of business or another daytime-use space in the corner unit.”

This model—maximizing profits for the sake of investors who pay into funds worth hundreds of millions of dollars—has been at the heart of Swift’s business for the past several years. And it turns out the Boiler Room and its immediate neighbors aren’t the only ones that stand to lose.

Property records show Swift has snatched up a half dozen buildings in Old Town in the last year and a half, prompting alarm from local businesses worried they might be pushed out, and anger from those who already have been.

“[Swift] indicated they feel Portland is well undervalued,” says Paul Wagner, whose startup company, CloudEngage, left its three-year home at 123 NW 2nd after he says Swift proposed a nearly 50 percent rent increase. “They plan to bring it more in line with Bay Area pricing. There’s no stopping what’s happening.”

Since April 2015, Swift has spent $36.7 million buying up buildings with the aim of paying off investors that include teachers in Texas and bankers in Switzerland. Thanks to its most recent, $12.1 million purchase in December 2015, the company now controls whole block faces along NW Couch (between 1st and 2nd) and NW Davis (between 2nd and 3rd)—including buildings that hold tenants like Floyd’s Coffee and Old Town Pizza. In April 2015, it spent $9.1 million on a building at NW 1st and Couch that houses Airbnb’s Portland offices. In July of last year, it spent $15.5 million to snap up more than three-quarters of a city block at SW 1st and Ash (including the building that houses the Mercury’s offices).

“Portland is being recognized by out-of-region investors as a place that hasn’t been picked over,” says Gerard Mildner, director of the Center for Real Estate at Portland State University. “There are opportunities for buying assets and repositioning properties.”

Notably, Swift purchased all this property from the same local owner: Fountain Village Development. That company, owned by prominent Portland developer John Beardsley, has been a leader in buying and managing historic properties for decades. In late 2009, as the real estate downturn forced him to declare bankruptcy (and lose some of his buildings in the process), Beardsley told theOregonian: “I’ve got by far the most historic buildings downtown. I’m a steward, and I’m not surrendering that.” Swift’s offers, it appears, softened that stance.

The question now becomes how the company will seek to make its investors money in a corner of Portland that’s been known more for noisy nightlife and social services than high-end real estate.

Swift’s president and CEO, Christopher Peatross, hasn’t been shy about his technique. The company focuses on buying “value-add” properties—that is, buildings that have existing tenants, but which can be improved to attract new tenants or higher rents.

For instance, after purchasing seven Silicon Valley office properties in 2014, Peatross told a Bay Area real estate publication he’d look to make money “as we either bring the rents that are now 20 percent below market [rate] up to market levels or bring in new tenants.”

In the case of the Boiler Room, the company has decided to bring in new tenants, and is reportedly looking for someone who will open their doors during the daytime, as opposed to only at night. Peatross didn’t return a message left with a receptionist. Todd Becker, a senior property manager for Swift in Portland, didn’t return the Mercury’s phone and email messages.

Tenants who have interacted with Swift since their buildings were bought relate varying stories (the Mercury recently secured a new lease).

“We had a long-term lease that has been honored by the last building owner and Swift, including an option that renewed that lease until August of 2019,” says Lynn Longfellow, executive director of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, which runs the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a museum dedicated to Japanese American history, at 121 NW 2nd. “Hopefully there will not be any problems with them honoring it. So far there haven’t been any issues.”

Things aren’t so sanguine just around the corner. Since Swift purchased the Norton Hotel building that houses his business, Floyd’s Coffee Shop owner Jack Inglis says he’s had an extremely hard time getting the company to sit down with him about his lease, which expires in just under two years.

“We are very concerned about our future in the building,” Inglis tells theMercury. “When a new owner refuses to talk about renewing your lease, it usually means that they want you out.”

According to Inglis, though his building was purchased in December, it wasn’t until last week that he had his first face-to-face meeting with Becker, Swift’s Portland-based property manager. Inglis says he’s asked other tenants “whether they have had any luck actually speaking to anyone from Swift over the last eight months—to a person, they had not.”

“I think we all have concerns,” confirms Kecia Nathan, owner of the Whiskey Bar, which sits in the same building.

Some of that concern has waned in recent days for Inglis. After he first spoke with the Mercury, he says Swift reached out with an offer to extend his lease.

“We’ll see what happens,” he says.

Despite the worries playing out in Old Town, not everyone sees Swift’s arrival as a bad thing. Cliff Hockley, president of Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services, tells the Mercury the investor’s interest in the neighborhood—which is likely short term—might ultimately be transformative.

“It is a different dynamic and it’s going to continue and it’s not going to stop,” Hockley says. “I think it’s a positive thing. Portland is coming on the map.”

Full disclosure: Author Dirk VanderHart previously worked as a KJ at the Boiler Room.

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The rent crisis is about to get a lot worse, Harvard report says

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The rent crisis is about to get a lot worse, Harvard report says

Bloomberg NewsBy Bloomberg News
on September 23, 2015 at 12:46 PM

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How bad can rental affordability in the U.S. get? Even worse.

That’s pretty bad.

The number of U.S. households that spend at least half their income on rent—the “severely cost-burdened,” in the lingo of housing experts—could increase 25 percent to 14.8 million over the next decade. More than 1 million households headed by Hispanics and more than 1 million headed by the elderly could pass into those ranks. Households shouldn’t spend more than 30 percent of income on housing, by the general rule of thumb.

The grim figures come from a report out today from Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable-housing nonprofit group, and Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies. To reach their conclusions, the researchers considered various scenarios for wage and rent growth over the next decade.

Even in the best case posited by the report, with wages growing a full percentage point per year faster than rents, the number of severely-cost burdened households will barely fall, from 11.8 million in 2015 to 11.6 million in 2025. In the baseline scenario, where rents and wages (and inflation) increase at 2 percent each year, the researchers expect the number to reach 13.1 million.

There were 11.2 million severely burdened renter households in 2013, competing for 7.3 million units affordable to them, the report said. If rents continue to rise faster than wages, the number of households spending more than half their income on rent will rise, too. Wages grew 0.2 percent in the second quarter of this year, the slowest pace since 1982.

“The economy alone is not going to solve this problem,” said Andrew Jakabovics, senior director of research at Enterprise Community Partners, in a conference call to discuss the findings. “It brings us back to the need to expand affordable housing,”

The report didn’t break out the share of severely rent- burdened households by income, but the poorest Americans are more likely to spend at least half of their income on rent, according to a May report from the Furman Center that focused on renters in major cities. In New York and Los Angeles, among other cities, more than one-third of middle-income renters were severely rent-burdened.

New data from the Census Bureau last week showed that the percentage of U.S. households spending 30 percent of their income on housing was lower in 2014 than in any year since 2005. That’s probably because of home buyers taking out new mortgages and homeowners refinancing existing loans at lower rates, housing economist Jed Kolko said. Renters don’t have that option, and face an increasingly alarming future.

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Is Portland the next San Francisco? 4 takeaways from Metro’s discussion

Is Portland the next San Francisco? 4 takeaways from Metro’s discussion

San Francisco Building Moratorium
A street sign hangs outside a new apartment building on Mission Street, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, in San Francisco. Finding a place to live has become so expensive and emotional that city supervisors were considering a 45-day moratorium on luxury housing in the Mission District, which has long been one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. Portland’s Metro regional government hosted a discussion about lessons the area can learn from San Francisco. (The Associated Press)

Luke Hammill | The Oregonian/OregonLiveBy Luke Hammill | The Oregonian/OregonLive
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on September 21, 2015 at 7:00 AM, updated September 21, 2015 at 7:02 AM

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One of the many signs people in Portland are concerned about the cost of area housing: there wasn’t an empty seat in the audience for a Metro panel discussion on the subject, and it was Friday at 8 a.m.

The regional planning agency hosted Kim-Mai Cutler, a reporter formerly of Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal who now writes for TechCrunch. At nearly 13,000 words, Cutler’s “How Burrowing Owls Lead to Vomiting Anarchists (or S.F.’s Housing Crisis Explained)” provides a comprehensive look at what’s gone wrong in San Francisco, where the median rent price, according to Zillow, is $4,600.

It’s not quite that bad yet in Portland, where the median rent is $1,700. But costs arerising fast, and organizations like the Community Alliance of Tenants have declared a “renter state of emergency.” Metro invited Cutler with the hope of learning from San Francisco’s troubles and preventing the situation in Oregon from growing worse.

Joining Cutler were economist Joe Cortright, of City Observatory; Elisa Harrigan, the affordable housing initiative program officer at Meyer Memorial Trust; and developer Eli Spevak, of Orange Splot LLC. Willamette Week reporter Aaron Mesh served as moderator.

Cutler began the event with a presentation on how and why the Bay Area became so unaffordable over the last 40 years. The panel discussion followed, and the group took questions from the audience at the end.

Here are four ideas that stood out:

People are moving back into cities, but supply can’t catch up

Suburban homes used to sell at a 9 percent premium above homes in Portland, Cortright said. Less than a decade later, the opposite is true: Portland homes now sell at a 7 percent premium.

“The cause of what’s going on is there’s a huge and increasing demand for urban living in the United States. … [People] are doing what a lot of urbanists hoped they would do,” Cortright said. But the supply of urban spaces, he added, hasn’t increased “anywhere nearly rapidly enough.”

In the Bay Area, the problem has been exacerbated by immense industrial growth in the Silicon Valley suburbs where large tech firms make their headquarters. Those towns, Cutler said, haven’t allowed for the construction of housing to keep up with the companies’ thousands of new employees.

“When suburbs…limit the amount of growth,” Cutler said, “the growth goes somewhere else and into the urban core.”

The panel’s consensus: rent control and inclusionary zoning don’t work

Rent control does work, Cortright said, for those who have rent-controlled apartments – but only them.

“It drives up the price of housing everywhere else” by further constraining the market-rate supply, he said.

And in Portland, developers have built more affordable housing in the Pearl District and Old Town in 10 years – 2,200 units as of 2014, below the city’s goal of more than 2,400 – than all of San Francisco got as a result of inclusionary zoning since 1992.

Inclusionary zoning is a policy by which jurisdictions require all housing developments to include a certain number of affordable units.

“If there was a silver bullet,” Harrigan said, referring to one panacea-like solution, Portland would have done it by now.

Cutler, with support from other panelists, proposed a land-value tax. It would be assessed on the underlying value of a property regardless of how well it is used or improved. Cities could then dedicate those revenues toward building affordable housing.

The ‘elephant in the room,’ according to one panelist? Parking requirements

“We have inclusionary zoning for cars,” Cortright half-joked.

He said forcing parking requirements on developers constrains the supply of housing. Fewer units get built, which drives up the prices of houses and apartments.

“Stop taxing houses to subsidize cars,” he said. Property taxes, after all, pay for police officers and firefighters, who spend significant time dealing with traffic control and car accidents, he added.

Cortright was also in favor of abolishing free parking in certain neighborhoods in an effort to get people out of their cars and onto public transit and bicycles. The conversation about affordability, he said, needs to focus not just on housing but on lifestyle, as well.

What about NIMBYs?

It’s an old idea: the “Not In My Backyard” crowd supports smart growth, density, transit-oriented development and affordable housing, as long as it doesn’t happen in their neighborhood.

But are efforts to preserve neighborhood “character” causing Portland’s dwindling stock of affordable homes?

“In many cases the objections” to projects that would bring housing to a neighborhood can seem “a little extreme,” Cutler said.

And though a city can’t build its way out of a housing crisis, Spevak said, “we have to let developers build more homes.” Increasing the supply can prevent prices from rising as fast as they are now, he said.

Spevak thinks city officials and developers can find ways to “creatively and discreetly slip small homes into the existing fabric.”

But he cautioned against characterizing neighborhood activists with broad strokes.

“There are a lot of folks in the neighborhoods who are willing to take on additional homes,” Spevak said.

— Luke Hammill

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Federal Reserve chair sees ‘very depressed’ U.S. housing market on track to improve

Federal Reserve chair sees ‘very depressed’ U.S. housing market on track to improve

Janet Yellen
In this March 18, 2015 file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference at the end of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington. (Kevin Wolf/The Associated Press)

Bloomberg NewsBy Bloomberg News
on September 18, 2015 at 12:23 PM

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While Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen heaped praise on the U.S. labor market in her press conference on Thursday, the housing market got little love.

Residential real estate “remains very depressed,” she told reporters after announcing at the end of  a two-day meeting that policy makers had decided against raising the benchmark interest rate. “Demand for housing should be there and should materialize as the job market improves and income growth improves.”

So what counts as a “very depressed” level of housing? Yellen cited housing starts that are “below levels that seem consistent with underlying demographics, especially in an economy that’s creating jobs.” Commerce Department data earlier Thursday showed that new-home construction dropped in August after a downward revision to the previous month, representing a pause in a general upward trend:

The Fed chief noted that while it’s “a very small sector of the economy,” housing “plays a supporting role” to bigger drivers such as consumer and business spending. The central bankers “recognize that the housing market is sensitive to mortgage rates” and that an eventual increase in the federal funds rate will eventually impact consumer borrowing costs. Right now, the average 30-year fixed rate is still lingering close to all-time lows.

One data point that might keep Fed officials buoyant on housing: Building permits for single-family homes, the biggest and most important part of the market, climbed in August to their best level since January 2008. That signals builders could become busier in the coming months.

The housing market has a couple chances to impress next week. Data on August sales of existing homes are scheduled for release Monday by the National Association of Realtors, followed by the Commerce Department’s Thursday report on new-home sales.

— Bloomberg News

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Wilsonville ‘crushing’ single-family housing records; one of metro’s hottest growth areas

Wilsonville ‘crushing’ single-family housing records; one of metro’s hottest growth areas

Luke Hammill | The Oregonian/OregonLiveBy Luke Hammill | The Oregonian/OregonLive
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on September 13, 2015 at 5:00 AM

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While cranes assemble imposing towers crammed full of apartments in Portland and push forward on the biggest construction project in state history in Hillsboro, Wilsonville has quietly become one of the hottest development spots in the metro area in recent years. But there, the push is almost entirely around single-family homes.

Realtors, developers and city representatives attribute Wilsonville’s growth to years of planning and an industrial center that officials want to expand in the coming months through a proposed urban renewal district.

“The demand has just been astounding,” said Mayor Tim Knapp.

GS.11VILL113.jpg

Most of the new development has happened in western Wilsonville’s Villebois area, the former site of Dammasch State Hospital slated to eventually have nearly 2,700 new homes. Villebois, which covers nearly 500 acres and was built with urban renewal dollars, is over halfway there now, said Chris Neamtzu, Wilsonville’s planning director.

Record-setting growth
For the third straight year, Wilsonville set a new city record for the number of building permits issued for single-family homes. And it didn’t even take until August.
The city issued 264 such permits through July, far outpacing any other Portland suburb, according to data collected by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. And since the beginning of 2013, only Happy Valley (with 822) issued more than Wilsonville (704) among suburban towns. Wilsonville’s own numbers show that it only took the first six months of this year to surpass the $52 million valuation of all single-family building permits approved in 2014.
“This year, we’re crushing all the records,” said Chris Neamtzu, Wilsonville’s planning director.

On a recent evening, David Swartwood and his wife, Katie, played with their two kids in a small park that doubles as the front yard for the couple and a handful of neighbors. Swartwood, a mechanical engineer at aviation company Rockwell Collins, used to commute to his Wilsonville job from Northeast Portland. He and Katie, a teacher in theBeaverton School District, bought their Villebois house in 2011 – just before the neighborhood exploded.

“There’s probably three times as many houses as when we got here,” Swartwood said.

In addition to an easier commute, Swartwood said, Wilsonville offers a lot of other young professionals, many of whom have children for Grant, 3, and Eleanor, 1, to make friends with. During the summer, a weekly farmers’ market is held down the street from their house.

“It’s a lot easier down here,” he said.

Wilsonville realtor and Villebois resident Andy Green has been setting records along with the city. Green Group Real Estate, he said, is on pace to double its sales for the second year in a row.

“By June of this year, we had closed more… homes than we did all of last year,” Green said. He expects to eclipse $50 million in sales by the end of the year.

Green attributed his success in part to the “very wide mix of housing products” available to consumers.

City leaders, Knapp said, enacted so-called “rules of adjacency” that prohibit homes across or next to each other from looking exactly alike, thus avoiding the “cookie-cutter” feel for which suburbs are often derided. He added that to offset many of the homes’ “smaller” lot sizes, the city made room for amenities such as Piccadilly, Sofia and Palermo parks, which align themselves to separate two sides of a residential area.

That’s not to say Villebois doesn’t look suburban. It certainly does. But it differs from other outlying single-family developments with small touches such as the placement of driveways and garages behind houses such as Swartwood’s, allowing front doors to open directly onto sidewalks and green space.

Not far from the Villebois community pool, tennis court and fitness room sits a public square and a mixed-use apartment building that wouldn’t look out of place in the Pearl District. (Wilsonville added 376 multifamily units in 2011 and 288 in 2012, city data shows.)

Jim Chapman, the president at developer Legend Homes, called Wilsonville one of the region’s “hotspots lately” and said the city has been “very good for us” since 25 years ago, when only about 7,000 people lived there. Now, the population is near 21,500.

Chapman estimated that Legend is approaching 200 homes built in Villebois alone.

“I think they’re a very experienced government there now,” Chapman said. “And they have a good handle on what’s going on and what their needs are and why. … They’re one of the few jurisdictions out there that I think is doing a good job of planning and executing.”

The fast-increasing supply hasn’t slowed a rise in prices, however. The real estate website Zillow estimated that the median home value in Wilsonville was $384,300 at the end of July – a 7.6 percent year-over-year increase and significantly higher than Beaverton, Tigard, Vancouver, Hillsboro and Oregon City – and predicts that prices will keep rising.

Single-family housing permits issued (Sources: Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Zillow)
City Since 2013 Since 2012 2015 YTD (through July) Median home value, July 31
Beaverton 424 561 106 $282,700
Gresham 263 329 127 $221,100
Happy Valley 822 1022 159 $392,200
Hillsboro 507 681 153 $251,500
Oregon City 335 628 82 $268,600
Tigard 239 383 29 $305,300
Vancouver 673 965 212 $201,100
Wilsonville 704 811 264 $384,300

Chapman’s buyers are attracted, he said, by the city’s transit options, such as the WES Commuter Rail and shuttles to Salem and Portland. Wilsonville is also a “job center,” Chapman said. “It has an industrial and office section of town that’s pretty sizable.”

Businesses in Wilsonville include Mentor Graphics, Xerox and the Coca Cola Bottling Co. And through an advisory vote, the city will ask residents in November what they think about attracting more companies to the Coffee Creek area through another urban renewal district, this one industrial.

“The challenge, of course, is to maintain the qualities and amenities of a smaller community that I think many people have come to Wilsonville to expect,” Knapp said. “And there’s always a tension between that and the pressures to grow.”

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Despite anti-California stickers, numbers suggest migrants are good for economy

Despite anti-California stickers, numbers suggest migrants are good for economy

anti california
Realtor Quinn Irvine says somebody plastered a “no Californians” sticker on one of his For Sale signs in North Portland.(Courtesy of Quinn Irvine)

Luke Hammill | The Oregonian/OregonLiveBy Luke Hammill | The Oregonian/OregonLive
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on September 11, 2015 at 5:00 AM, updated September 11, 2015 at 5:02 AM

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After publication of a story about Portlanders slapping “no Californians” stickerson For Sale signs, the Internet exploded with reaction.

The post generated more than 1,000 comments. It was published as far away as Hawaii. And a healthy contingent of readers seemed to share the stickers’ sentiment: citing Portland’s rising housing prices, 44 percent of respondents to an unscientific poll said they supported the actions of whoever is responsible for them.

But a look at the numbers suggests that the influx of Californians and other transplants is good for Oregon’s economy.

Josh Lehner, a senior economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, penned a post titled “Migration (In Defense of Californians)” on the agency’s blog. In it, Lehner points out that “Americans have been moving to Oregon in droves since Lewis and Clark and are likely to continue to do so.” Nearly half of Oregon’s American-born population, Lehner wrote, came here from another state.

“Migration is vital to Oregon’s economic health,” wrote Lehner, himself a transplant from the Great Plains. “It is one of the two primary reasons Oregon outperforms the typical state during an economic expansion. The other being our industrial structure. … Our state’s ability to attract skilled, young working age households is a huge economic benefit. We rank quite well on the brain gain spectrum (the opposite of the brain drain).”

Lehner went on to say that job growth corresponds positively with migration. And he debunked the idea that everybody is coming from San Francisco – the majority of California migrants are coming to Oregon from Los Angeles and San Diego, Lehner wrote.

Oregon DMV data shows that the percentage of driver’s licenses surrendered in Oregon that come from California is historically low. Less than 30 percent of the licenses have come from California every year since 2008, compared to over 35 percent in the mid-2000s.

The percentage of licenses coming from California does appear to be rising faster than the percentage of licenses from everywhere else.

Elliot Njus of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to

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