The Oregon Opportunity network has hit back this morning at City Commissioner Randy Leonard's comments about siting a baseball stadium in Lents, potentially taking money away from affordable housing projects in the district. Here's their press release, this morning:

At a community meeting intended to promote building a new minor league baseball stadium in the Lents Neighborhood on Tuesday evening, Commissioner Randy Leonard proposed that the City relax its Urban Renewal Affordable Housing Set Aside in the Lents urban renewal district in order to fund the stadium. Leonard, who along with then Commissioners Sam Adams and Eric Sten lead the charge to establish the City’s housing set aside, suggested that other urban renewal districts could increase funding for affordable housing to off-set the set aside reduction in Lents.

“We are very concerned that Commissioner Leonard, a huge supporter of affordable housing, would consider reducing the set aside in the Lents urban renewal district,” said Michael Anderson, Executive Director of the Oregon Opportunity Network (Oregon ON). “Investing in affordable housing early in the life of an urban renewal district is essential if the City wants to avoid the displacement and gentrification that we saw in the Interstate urban renewal district.

The need for decent, safe, affordable housing in Lents is well documented. A 2006 Portland Development Commission Lents Housing Study found that almost half of Lents residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and fewer than 25% of Lents residents can afford market rate homes built in Lents. Additionally, the study found that more than 1,000 Lents homes are in poor condition.

“Clearly, Lents needs better housing options for its current residents,” said Ari Rapkin. “Reducing the set aside in Lents would be moving in the wrong direction for the City. One of the major reasons that the City Council passed the set aside was the reality that housing loses as funding priority whenever it is matched with higher profile, glitzier projects."

Mike Houck, Executive Director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute and member of the Coalition for a Livable Future, concurs, saying, “The AAA baseball stadium proposed for Lents park is a loss for both parks and affordable housing. No only do we lose a community park but the funding comes at the expense of affordable housing, a classic lose-lose proposition.”

We have a call in to the nonprofit for more.

Update, 11:22: "Any time affordable housing has to go toe to toe with glitzier projects, of course those projects are going to win out. That's exactly what the set-aside is about," says Anderson. "The momentum for the set-aside essentially picked up after the tram scam, when the city essentially re-allocated a lot of money that would have otherwise gone to affordable housing to pay for the tram on the South Waterfront."

"The pattern is, that even though affordable housing was adopted as a priority in the South Waterfront, the shiny tram got the leg-up on affordable housing priorities," says Anderson. "And so, that's where the set-aside came from. The whole way to protect urban renewal from the political winds that they were subject to was to adopt the set-aside."

"I'm hoping the momentum for the baseball stadium can be tempered by reality," says Anderson. "One of the things that I'm really concerned about is that Merritt Paulson seems to be imposing the same kinds of arbitrary deadlines on the project that his father was imposing on the bailout. I would hope that the city commissioners start to look at this more closely."