How Cash Sent the Portland Home Market Spinning

Julieth Buri waters flowers in front of the Portland house she and her husband, Justin, bought in 2014. Photo: Leah Nash for InvestigateWest

Justin and Julieth Buri were about to lose. Again.

This time it was a gold-colored bungalow, a 1,382-square-foot house on Northeast Fremont belonging to the estate of Veona Monroe, a church devotee and the matriarch of a large Portland family.

It needed work, but they were smitten, if not optimistic. Justin Buri, by day an advocate for tenants, knew well the scarcity of Portland houses. They offered $250,000 — $10,000 over the asking price — and crossed their fingers. This time it took a full day before another buyer outbid them, paying all cash. Seven months later, the house sold again, remodeled, for $483,000.

“It was a nightmare,” Justin Buri said of their house-hunting days. From the time those days began in October 2013 until they ended the following May, the Buris were outbid 16 times for homes, many times by all-cash offers.

“Sometimes we wouldn’t even get beat by that much, but because it was a cash offer, the owner would prefer it,” he said.

So goes the story. Cash is king in red-hot Portland real estate, representing a full one-third of single-family home sales last year. Depending on which urban myth you subscribe to, many first-time home buyers are just out of luck either because the Metro-area urban growth boundary makes housing scarce and pricey, or because Portland is so great, housing is being gobbled up by a flood of New Yorkers and Californians racing here for a slice of nirvana. It’s a post-Portlandia feeding frenzy, right?

Well, no. Not entirely.

May 27-28: Forests and the Economy Symposium and Town Hall

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PORTLAND — InvestigateWest and the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication are excited to present a pair of special events on one of the Northwest’s most pressing public policy issues: Forests and the Economy. 

Join us for a symposium on May 27 in Portland, followed by a town hall in Grants Pass on May 28. Both events are free and open to the public, though due to the limited capacity and expected demand for seats, advance tickets will be required for admission.

Portland Program

REGISTER HERE

The Portland symposium will feature leading experts discussing innovative ideas and policy proposals for managing one of the state's most cherished resources.

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Listen: Lee van der Voo on Think Out Loud

On Monday, Lee van der Voo talked with Think Out Loud's Dave Miller about her new report, "How Cash Sent the Portland Home Market Spinning."

Listen to the full interview here:

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Solar Power Expansion Legislation Caught in Political Crossfire

Rooftop solar panels

After nearly two months in legislative limbo, a bill has emerged that would subsidize solar panels for everyone. But it could be dragged down by political struggles, including a failed attempt this week to link it to a bid by utilities to ease their burdens under voter-approved Initiative 937.

I-937 requires utilities to use certain kinds of renewable energy, but has been the target of repeated attempts by utilities to weaken it. They claim that in some cases it’s actually costing them extra money while frustrating the original clean-energy intent of the 2006 initiative.

If passed, the solar bill (HB 1912) would guarantee that purchasers of solar equipment receive a full 10 years of state payments, which could spur new investments in rooftop solar.

A Vision for Transparency Reform in Oregon

In my household there is a running gag. It’s that my future biography — to be written by my husband, who I have been talking at for a minimum of two hours a day for many years — will be called Visions.

Redacted.

It will not be about all of the things I have accomplished. It will be a list, likely numbering in the hundreds of pages, of all the great ideas I’ve had but for a variety of reasons did not see through.

There will be the numerous companies I have started (in my mind, anyway). The ever-evolving landscaping plan always in progress in my yard (and, again, in my mind). There will be the dozens of art projects floating around in closets and our basement. Thousands of unwritten articles — a few with asterisks denoting the unavoidable legal causes of their demise. A book or five. Nonprofits, animal rescues, orchid arrangements, volunteer projects.

I am not a procrastinator. I simply like to start things. Like this column. Like the Redacted app. Like a TED Talk-style story rollout at InvestigateWest’s Oregon launch party Thursday night (6 p.m. in Portland at Ecotrust).

And now I’m going to start something with you people: We are going to try to get this darn bill passed.

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Microbeads Ban Goes Down the Drain

Puget Sound. Photo: Flickr/Kris Symer

Legislation aimed at reducing water pollution by phasing out plastic microbeads in products like toothpaste and cosmetics got a unanimous yes vote in the Republican-controlled Washington Senate. But the Democratic-controlled House Environment Committee scrubbed it, leaving it in the growing pile of this session’s dead and discarded bills.

Senate Bill 5609 would have, by 2020, banned the manufacture and sale of products containing synthetic microbeads. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used as abrasives in many health and beauty products. They wash down the drain but are so small that they can escape wastewater treatment filters, ending up in Puget Sound and other waterways and entering the food chain as a pollutant.

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Budget-Cutters Take Aim at Key Puget Sound Projects

Puyallup River. Photo: Flickr/Eldan Goldenberg.

Updated April 13, 2015, 4:20 p.m.

In the little town of Orting, the Puyallup River spilled out of its banks during heavy rainstorms in 2006 and again in 2009, each time forcing hundreds of residents to flee the muddy floodwaters.

Last November, the deluge returned with nearly the same fury. This time, however, after a major construction project to move back the levees around the Puyallup, the river spread out harmlessly across a vast, newly created floodplain. It’s part of a state strategy to restore Puget Sound — giving rivers room to roam helps Puget Sound by restoring habitat for salmon and other creatures far upstream from the Sound.

“The November storm was the fourth-highest flow since 1962, yet the city did not fill one sandbag,” said Ken Wolfe, Orting’s building official, who managed the floodplain restoration. “There was no need.”

A big chunk of the money for moving back Orting’s levees came from a state program known as Floodplains By Design that would be eliminated under a budget proposal unveiled this week by Senate Republicans.  Their budget, which aims to increase spending on education while holding the line on taxes, would completely eliminate some of the most important efforts to restore Puget Sound and slash others to a fraction of their current funding.

Winning in Court Just the First Step for Bellingham Wage Theft Victims

When workers get cheated out of wages, it’s often not enough just to win a court order for back pay. Often the court ruling is a hollow victory because the employer has gone out of business or claims to have little or no money to pay the judgment.

Editor's Note
InvestigateWest is proud to feature this piece by FairWarning, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit investigative news organization focused on public health and safety issues.

That’s the challenge likely facing 101 workers who a jury last month awarded $1.3 million in back pay and damages from the co-owners of a restaurant and a spa in Bellingham, Wash. A lawyer for the employers said there is no way they will be able to pay.

The case, detailed in a FairWarning story InvestigateWest published last year, was brought by the U.S. Department of Labor against Huang “Jackie” Jie and Zhao “Jenny” Zeng Hong and their businesses. The government’s civil suit highlighted the issue of low-skill immigrant workers who are victims of wage theft but resist complaining to authorities because they fear retaliation by their employers.

Federal officials alleged an array of workplace abuses by Huang and Zeng, who once were married but divorced in 2013. Also named as defendants were their businesses, which operated under the names J&J Mongolian Grill and Spa Therapy in a Bellingham mall. Both closed in recent months.

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