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Low-income renters in the Portland area are getting priced out of their housing. Here's why that was always the deal

Property owners can take a tax credit if they offer affordable housing to low-income renters. But after a certain number of years, they're free to take an offramp.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Three decades ago, the federal government launched a program that incentivized property owners to provide affordable housing for people with lower incomes. Now, all these years later, some owners have an opportunity to bow out of the program, and many are taking advantage of it.

For low-income renters in the Portland metro area, it's a terrifying prospect — one that carries the very real risk of leaving them homeless when housing prices and homelessness are already an intractable problem.

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit is supported by the federal government and operated by the state. It first launched in 1986, becoming permanent in 1993.

With the credit, property owners get a tax break that lasts between 10 and 60 years, depending on the project. In exchange, they reserve some of their units for low-income renters.

The program was wildly popular across the U.S., growing to include more than 50,000 projects nationwide containing 3.4 million units, either apartments or houses.

But the deal has always included a built-in countdown. Once the time is up, owners are allowed to raise the rates for those low-income units up to market rate.

That's precisely what has happened to some apartment complexes in Oregon. The Woodspring Apartments in Tigard, which KGW reporter Blair Best covered last week, are one example. They had a 30-year deal that started in 1991.

Federal regulations require owners to let low-income residents stay in their homes for three years after the deal expires — a grace period, more or less. For the senior tenants at the Woodspring Apartments, that time runs out at the end of this year. Past that point, the owners will be be able to raise prices up to market rate, though the increase each year is limited by Oregon's rent control laws.

The end of the deal will impact about 70 units at Woodspring. Lois Keck, now 80 years old, has lived in one of those units for 20 years.

"I feel like I want to cry. Because if they can't or wont — I don't know what we're going to do," Keck told KGW. "It's just not right. When you have something seniors can afford, but you take that away from them ... but you say we're going to build all this new development for (the) homeless — why in the world are they sending us out on the street when they can, for a fraction of the money, keep us housed instead of having to start all over again?"

Keck said that she currently pays about $1,200 a month for her one-bedroom apartment. The market rate would be closer to $1,800, which she cannot afford.

Shelly Perez is another renter. She and her husband waited a year and a half to get into a low-income unit at Woodspring. She had no idea that it was all going to change so soon.

"We have fallen in love with our neighbors," Perez said. "And they're not neighbors, they're our friends now. And we don't want to have to go anywhere. We want to stay there. But you can't when you can't afford it."

Oregon Housing and Community Services estimates that the low-income requirements for about 4,400 units will expire within the next 8 years.

The Oregon legislature has set aside $450,000 for Washington County to help the tenants at Woodspring. Of that amount, up to $200,000 can be used by the county for staff and administration. The remaining $250,000 will go toward one-time payments of $3,000 to the low-income renters in danger of being priced out, either helping them to move out or pay the increased rent.

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