Down The Road, On The Rise

Families looking for more house for their money also will find great schools, lovely parks and soon-to-come light rail access just southeast of Portland.

Speed through Milwaukie on Highway 99E and it’s easy to get the wrong impression: Fast cars, wide lanes and strip malls dominate the landscape. But if you’re willing to slow down and take city streets, you’ll soon learn there’s much more to this community of 20,500 people.

Founded on the banks of the Willamette River more than 150 years ago, Milwaukie is a city on the upswing. New apartments and stores are coming to its walkable downtown. Trails provide access to the river and to nature. A waterfront park is slated to open in January.

“It’s a delightful place to raise a family,” says Danna Freeman, who has lived in Milwaukie for 21 years, 14 of them selling real estate in the area. She moved to the community because of its sense of place and local schools, and stayed because of the mix of small-town community and big-city access. “We’re so close to the city, five minutes from Sellwood, but so many people never think of living in Milwaukie.”

The housing market

This Milwaukie home, built in 1987, was recently on the market for $249,900. It has 1747 square feet, three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths.

This Milwaukie home, built in 1987, was recently on the market for $249,900. It has 1747 square feet, three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths.

Back in the 1920s and ’30s, Milwaukie was a bedroom community for Portland’s elite, Freeman says.

“They’d take the trolley from Portland to their country homes, and today there are still beautiful estates on acreage in the community,” she adds. “Then the central area of Milwaukie was developed in the ’50s and ’60s, bringing smaller ranch-style homes. You get a bit of everything here, and it’s a good value compared to inner Portland.”

This summer, Milwaukie home sales were up 10 percent compared to a year earlier, according to data compiled by the RMLS real estate listing service. About half of Milwaukie homes sold for more than $290,000, half for less. Recent real estate listings show a three-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot house with an asking price of $219,900. A 2,600-square-foot house with four bedrooms, 2.5 baths at the end of a dead-end street listed at $324,900.

This Milwaukie home at 14900 SE Rupert Drive was on the market at presstime for $369,900. The 1910 farmhouse has 2,394 square feet, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

This Milwaukie home at 14900 SE Rupert Drive was on the market at presstime for $369,900. The 1910 farmhouse has 2,394 square feet, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Families looking for acreage can find similarly priced houses by looking outside Milwaukie’s strict city limits, Freeman says.

Melissa Thomsen, a stay-at-home mom to three kids, first moved to Milwaukie with her husband and her then 4-year-old in the spring of 2006. She’d been living in southeast Portland, and loved the walkable neighborhoods there. But her husband had, as she describes it, “a lot of toys,” including a boat and a dune buggy, so they were looking for a home with at least a two-car garage, plus enough room to hold the family they wanted to grow. In the still-overheated market of 2006, that proved hard to find in southeast Portland.

“We wanted to settle down,” Thomsen said. “We wanted to be somewhere for a long time.”

Milwaukie fit the bill: Their 1950s-style ranch home is close enough to the Willamette River for her husband to go wake-boarding regularly, has a view of OHSU and downtown Portland from the deck and mature, shady oak and fir trees all around them. Since they’ve moved in, the city’s downtown has developed, and now they can ride their bikes to trendy taquerias and wine bars.

“Our church is walking distance from our house, light rail went in five minutes away, and we still live really close to all the amenities,” Thomsen said. “Sellwood is a five minute drive, I can shop at New Seasons — we still get all these great things at a much more affordable price.” And she points out, property taxes in Clackamas County are significantly lower than they are in Multnomah County.

Family fun

From 1893 to 1968, a street car line connected downtown Milwaukie to central Portland. Today, you’ll find bikes, dogs and toddlers making their way along the city’s six-mile Trolley Trail. Opened in 2012, the trail is part of a planned 20-mile loop that will ultimately connect Milwaukie to Portland, Gladstone, Oregon City and Gresham.

The new trail fits well in a community dotted with parks, Freeman says. Development along Milwaukie’s waterfront will expand access to the river, and will also bring outdoor entertainment options, including a new amphitheater. There’s a farmers’ market on Sundays and a First Friday Art Walk that runs from May through October, and a few local favorite restaurants have set up outposts in Milwaukie, including Pietro’s Pizza and Cha Cha Cha Taqueria.

** Milwaukie’s annual Umbrella Parade in early December is a cherished tradition. The procession is led by the Milwaukie High marching band, and ends with a tree lighting ceremony at City Hall. **

Local schools

The North Clackamas School District serves public school students who live in Milwaukie.

Thomsen’s school-aged kids go to the magnet Sojourner School, which offers varied learning opportunities to kids based on their individual intelligences. The Milwaukie Academy of the Arts, a charter school nestled inside of Milwaukie High School, aims to draw on music, drama, and other arts to develop well-rounded graduates. Students here far outperform the statewide average — 93 percent of the school’s class of 2013 earned a diploma within four years, compared to 68 percent of students statewide.

Outside the charter school system, Milwaukie’s public schools are teaching students with multiple learning challenges. A quarter of the 1,053 students enrolled at Milwaukie High School in 2013 were non-native English speakers, 16 percent had disabilities, and 57 percent came from low-income households, according to the Oregon Department of Education. Yet the school is in the top third, statewide, when compared to schools serving similar student populations. Students of color, low-income students, English language learners and those enrolled in the school’s gifted program all consistently do better at Milwaukie High than at most other high schools in the state.

The well-regarded, private Portland Waldorf School, meanwhile, draws kindergarteners through 12th graders to its downtown Milwaukie campus. Milwaukie is also home to the Micha-El K-8 school, which offers a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that draws on music, the arts, woodworking, movement and instruction in Spanish and German languages.

Commuter options

The quickest way from downtown Milwaukie to downtown Portland by car is via Highway 99E, which takes about 15 minutes, so long as there isn’t too much traffic over the Ross Island or Hawthorne bridges. Drivers who live further east can hit I-205, and take that to I-84 or Powell Boulevard. The area is well-served by Tri-Met bus lines 31, 32, 33 and 99, which run through the city about every 20 minutes, except in the dead of night. And the new Portland-Milwaukie light rail line is set to open in 2015, and will travel over the new Tilikum Crossing bridge, 7.3 miles between Portland State, inner SE Portland and Milwaukie before ending at Oak Grove in north Clackamas County. n

Milwaukie at a Glance


Median home price:

Family Fun:
Sunday Farmers
First Friday
Art Walk

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Courtney Sherwood

Courtney Sherwood

Courtney Sherwood is a Portland-based freelance reporter and Reuters correspondent who also works as a fill-in editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Formerly business and features editor at The Columbian, her work has appeared in the Seattle Times, Brewer's Guardian, the Portland Mercury, Oregon Business magazine and numerous other publications. In her free time, she paddles competitively on a dragon boat team, and writes and performs for Transporter Malfunction, a Star Trek-themed act.
Courtney Sherwood

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