It's the last frontier in Portland for housing: an industrial swath of undeveloped riverside land stretching south from the Macadam Bridge. Gritty, uninhabited and hidden from view, the 130 acres won't remain untouched for long. In spectacularly ambitious blueprints, the area is designated as the city's next phase of "smart-growth" development. With spindly tall towers and an aerial tram, the recently revealed plans are worthy of a Jetson's postcard.
However, it would appear that developers forgot--or miscalculated--to make affordable housing available. Housing advocates say that for at least the first several years only the wealthiest six percent of Portland households--those earning more than $80,000 a year--will be able to afford to live in the development. Worse yet, the city has pledged $72 million to supply infrastructure like roads, streetcars, and water pipes--money that housing advocates bemoan could be spent on low or middle-income housing. For example, the city only supplies shelter space for one-fourth of the city's 1600 homeless men and women.
"The city has a policy for developing large, new areas," says Will White, director of the non-profit Housing Development Center. "They must have an income mix reflective of the city as a whole. Presently, we're falling short of that," admits White.
"If you were to match [available housing to] the city income profile as a whole," says White, "31 percent of new developments should be affordable housing." White defines "affordable housing" as property that's accessible to a family earning 50 percent or lower than the average Portland income (roughly an annual household income of $33,000 for a family of four). "As it stands," continues White, "the city only requires 15 percent [of housing] to be affordable." To make matters worse, says White, this latest development plan can't even meet that low standard.
The math for the South Waterfront Project just doesn't add up for middle to low income residents. Here's how it will break down: South Macadam's first phase of development--approved by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) on July 9--will be a 31-acre central district directly south of the Ross Island Bridge. The area will consist of two residential towers--each 250 feet high and studded with shops and businesses at street level. According to an agreement with developers, the majority of project funding--a reported $69.1 million--needs to be generated from property taxes. Hence an emphasis on pricey condos, the average one fetching $325 a square foot--or about $357,500, a price that's far out of reach for the vast majority of city residents.
When the PDC green-lighted the Waterfront Project, they did try to address the scarcity of affordable housing in Portland. But again, their math was a bit fuzzy: For every 3,000 market-rate condos and apartments built, developers must provide 790 units of affordable housing. But White says there simply isn't funding available to adopt those measures. To subsidize the requisite units of affordable housing, the PDC would need to pay out $56 million. As it stands, only $3 million is available until 2008.