It was as if some long-lost, housing-positive energy descended upon City Hall this past Wednesday.
It was the vote – or rather a series of votes – that reminded onlookers that housing for all once was — and should be again — a priority for our civic leaders, developers and neighborhoods. It was a City Council decision to rededicate the North Macadam Urban Renewal Area — the last downtown URA with significant open land for housing development — to its original promise to include low-income housing. This URA is the city’s funding mechanism behind the South Waterfront development, where high-end apartments are plentiful, with more coming every year. It has been a boon for developers and people who can shell out thousands each month for a small apartment.
But the city’s low-income obligations to the URA funding — 270 low-income units — have never been met and were soon to be abandoned. The Portland Housing Bureau intended to drop its goal. It seemed the path of least resistance.
To Commissioner Nick Fish, who challenged the city’s intended plan, this was like “lowering the river rather than raising the bridge.” On Wednesday, the City Council passed his resolution to solidify its intent to actually build new affordable housing in the city’s core. It was paired with a set of amendments to the city’s URA policies, brought forth by Mayor Charlie Hales that dedicate more tax revenue from that area to affordable housing.
Together, the City Council passed a collection of policies that will prioritize the largest, up-front chunk of change to build low-income housing this city has seen in years: $47 million. It includes dedicated parcels of land and specific housing unit quotas that exceed initial URA goals. And it passed 5-0.
“It means housing went to the front of the line,” Fish said after the meeting.
It’s about time.
Outside the sandstone walls of City Hall, more and more Portlanders can’t afford to live in this city, and it is on course to get much worse.
Incomes are moving at a glacial pace while housing costs — particularly for renters — are skyrocketing beyond any real logic. We live in a landlord economy. Family incomes are consumed by housing costs, not to mention older residents on fixed incomes.
During testimony for the resolution, speakers testified to the city’s abysmal numbers: more than 20,000 units short for our lowest-income residents, while we enjoy a surplus of higher-income housing. Yes – a surplus. Even with vouchers for rent assistance, there simply aren’t apartments available that people can afford.
The affordable housing units in North Macadam are years away, but at least now something will happen.
We’re still waiting on the other 20,000.