PORTLAND, Ore. -- Following a Wednesday morning vote by city commissioners, Portland’s inventory of affordable housing is officially on track to get a historic boost in 2019, with the scheduled completion of Block 45 in the heart of Portland’s Lloyd District.
The 240-unit, 12-story complex will be built on an already city-owned vacant lot at Northeast Grand Avenue and Hassalo Street, and it marks Portland’s largest investment in affordable housing landscape in the last 50 years, said Michael Cox, spokesman for Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“During the great recession, 2008 to 2012, the city really underbuilt housing of all types, but in particular affordable housing, and I think some recent estimates say we’re about 28,000 units below where we need to be,” he said. “So, it’s a great project.”
The studio, one and two-bedroom units will be available to adults and families who make 60 percent or less than the median family income for households their size.
One person living in a studio apartment, for instance, would pay $784 per month.
The rest would be covered by existing subsidies distributed by Home Forward, a nonprofit in Portland overseeing the project.
The agency’s executive director, Michael Buonocore, said for many of Portland’s working poor, the idea of living in an area close to downtown and near public transit has long been a fantasy.
“Often times the folks we interact with downtown, whether they’re working in pharmacy or staffing a restaurant, whatever the case may be… They’re working hard. They want to be able to live close to where they work, and this is going to create an opportunity for them,” he said.
But Wednesday’s move didn’t come without controversy.
Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly, among others, inquired about the project’s overall price tag and its price per unit.
Block 45 will cost $74 million to build, with $5.1 million in urban renewal funding from the city of Portland.
Subtracting the cost for a first floor of retail space, the project works out to $281,600 per unit.
Private contractors have reportedly claimed to be able to build such a complex for less than half of that.
Commissioner Nick Fish, after meeting with Mayor Ted Wheeler on Thursday, called that claim “nonsense.”
“I’m not moved by those arguments,” he said. “You go to East Portland and look at some of the affordable housing the private sector has put up, and a good wind knocks it down… We should make sure we're creating value, and if you're building for 100 years, build it to last. Make sure it's something someone wants to live in. Make sure it's an addition to the neighborhood not a negative. Make sure it's green and sustainable, and that's what we've done.”
Prior to Wednesday’s vote Commissioner Fish raised a second concern. He noted that, while there were units set aside for survivors of domestic violence, there were no permanent units set aside for supportive housing, which provides a tenant with social services in addition to a place to live.
On Thursday, he said he regretted voicing that as a sticking point prior to the vote, adding Wednesday “should have been a celebration.”
“The mayor and I are completely aligned on this strategy. In fact, he and I cosponsored an ordinance recently and said we’re going to add 2,000 units of permanent supportive housing over the next decade,” he said, noting Block 45 was in the works before Mayor Wheeler took office. “My comments were not directed to him. They were directed to the housing bureau.”
Commissioner Fish added he stood by the comment he made Wednesday that he will not support any future projects that lack supportive housing.