Looking Back on Life in the 2022 Urban Landscape

I am a bit late getting out this post, but I wanted to take some time to consider the trends in urban life over the past year and where we might be heading. The theme of 2022 in urban life was housing. Major cities face a crisis with their homeless population and not enough homes. Meanwhile, homeowners and landlords found themselves saddled with an unpredictable housing market that is either boom or bust depending on where you live.

In my home state of Oregon the main topic of the governor’s race was how to address homelessness in the state. While each candidate how their own strategy, the ultimate victor in the race (Tina Kotek) was a major figure behind the legislation passed in 2019 to allow the construction of duplexes on most house lots in Oregon. So Oregon will probably remain committed to addressing homelessness through increasing housing supply and support programs.

I was able to attend a design charette for one of these efforts to increase the affordable housing supply in November. In 2019, Corvallis’ housing coalition (Corvallis Housing First) was able to purchase an old motel in South Corvallis to use as housing. They were approached shortly after by the State of Oregon to receive state and federal funding to build low-cost housing on the site. The design charette was the first opportunity for the architects to share their initial ideas and gather feedback. It will be exciting to see where these efforts lead.

Meanwhile, Portland rolled out a controversial plan to require those camping in the city to use designated camping sites and banning camping in the city outside of these sites. While creating designated camping sites within Portland seems like a good idea to provide temporary housing in a way that can connect people to resources the harsh rules that come with them seem like a major detractor. In addition, tents are a poor substitute for permanent structures that are not damaged or fail to provide adequate shelter every time we have a major weather event like a windstorm or cold snap.

Elsewhere, Seattle and Los Angeles are investing their homelessness efforts in converting old hotels, like Corvallis Housing First, and focusing on policy to create more low-cost housing or market rate housing. My guess is that policies that give people agency to choose their housing will ultimately be more successful than policies that force people into a choice. It will be interesting to see how these attempts to address homelessness play out over the next 2-3 years.

At the same time home buyers and renters faced an increasing expensive market driven by increasing experiments in home ownership like iBuyers and speculators buying up rental properties. As a result homes and rentals have begun to behave more like an asset rather than a commodity, making it difficult for people to find stable housing. Yet many market experts are now predicting a major housing market crash as these various experiments fail and the large amounts of money that came with them are withdrawn from the market.

2022 seems to have been the year where housing became a critical issue for cities. Faced with growing populations of unhoused people, a glut of unaffordable housing and failing real estate experiments, many cities and states are starting to take the housing crisis seriously. As these various experiments in building stable and livable communities play out over the next years, and potentially decade, we will have to see what new ideas they bring as well as their potential pitfalls.

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