This article appeared in the Oregonian on October 12, 2016
Fate of affordable housing project rests with Portland City Council
By Mark P. O'Donnell
We have contracted with the nonprofit
Northwest Housing Alternatives
for the building and operation of a 160-unit low-income senior housing project in Northwest Portland. The nonprofit, which currently provides more than 1,800 housing units for more than 2,700 individuals, is one of Oregon's largest and oldest nonprofit developers of affordable housing in Oregon.
The financial viability of our project rests on two critical foundations. First, we have agreed with the nonprofit to a long-term ground lease at below-market rates. Second, the property is currently assigned a four-to-one "floor-area ratio," meaning you can develop up to a four-floor building.
However, the neighborhood group Northwest District Association and the city's Planning and Sustainability Committee have recommended the ratio be cut by 50 percent within a 27-block area within Northwest Portland. The City Council will be reviewing the recommendation in coming weeks.
If the Portland City Council yields to the neighborhood association, our affordable housing project will not happen.
Our plan had called for most of the 160 units to be occupied by seniors and citizens with special needs who are categorized as "extremely low income." Today, the City of Portland has a shortage of 23,295 units for that very category. In Multnomah County, the shortage is 27,535.
In other words, the poorest of the poor have the greatest needs.
We are at a loss to understand why the City Council would ask Portland voters to approve $258.4 million in general obligation bonds to provide approximately 1,300 affordable apartments and -- at the same time -- approve the reduction in the floor-area ratio that would eliminates 160 units of affordable housing at no cost to the City of Portland.
The Northwest Pilot Project receives an average of 5,000 calls per year for adults over 55 years of age who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Multnomah County. According to that nonprofit, the population of those age 55 or older who are homeless in Multnomah County has increased by 23 percent between 2013 and 2015. This acute shortage of affordable housing for the extremely low income leads to homelessness.
We have partnered with two nonprofit organizations that have outstanding resumes of helping extremely low income citizens. Approval of this exclusionary zoning for the elite will kill housing opportunities for those who need it the most. To do such in this crisis of a 23,295-unit shortage, reminds me of Emerson's statement: "Your actions are shouting so loud, I cannot hear what you say."