Two weeks ago, in a room packed with low-income housing advocates, city council made the first steps in a process that will keep Portland affordable. The plan: Require the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to make affordable housing a priority by setting aside a portion of its budget for inexpensive residences.
The only opposition: The Portland Business Alliance (PBA) and the Metro Association of Realtors, who don't want the city telling the PDC where to spend its money.
In March of 2006, the median cost for a house in Portland was $262,000, a 17 percent jump from 2005, and a staggering increase over 2002 prices. But during the same period, average incomes for Portland residents have remained flat or decreased.
In other words, Portlanders are being priced out of their own city.
So Erik Sten—who heads up the Bureau of Housing and Community Development—put forward a new plan: Simply force the PDC to set aside a percentage of all urban renewal dollars for affordable housing. His resolution—co-sponsored by Commissioner Sam Adams—passed 4-0, with Commissioner Dan Saltzman absent.
But in order to get a unanimous vote, Sten had to water down the resolution. The original plan was to force the PDC to set aside 30 percent of its budget for affordable housing, but Mayor Tom Potter characteristically wants to hear from "stakeholders" before finalizing the percentage. Now the resolution simply establishes a policy goal of setting aside PDC money for housing—the actual percentage will be decided this summer in negotiations between PDC, developers, city council, and housing advocates.
"I was comfortable with where the mayor wanted to go," Sten said after the vote. "His process concerns aren't unreasonable. The mayor's cooperation will make [negotiations] go smoothly. We lost almost nothing, and gaining a majority of the council was worth it."
Interestingly, Saltzman was AWOL during testimony and didn't return before the council voted. He's endorsed by the PBA and has numerous real estate agents as contributors—but, according to his chief of staff Brendan Finn, Saltzman wasn't dodging the vote. He would have voted for it, Finn said, but he had a speaking engagement to which he was already committed.