John Langley (right) and the first residents of the upstairs co-op, Emily Kamm and Daniel Wilson
  • John Langley (right) and the first residents of the upstairs co-op, Emily Kamm and Daniel Wilson
When I first reported the news last week that the city's premier vegan-anti-cop cafe Red and Black was fundraising to buy its building and turn the top story into five units of affordable housing, the response went something like: "WHAAAAT?! HOW DO THEY HAVE THE MONEY FOR THAT? IS THAT BUILDING EVEN FOR SALE?! HOW ARE THEY EVER GOING TO GET A LOAN?!" All good questions!

I got coffee with Red and Black co-owner and Portland Collective Housing Development Director John Langley Sunday morning and asked for the rundown on how the redevelopment is going to work. Portland Collective Housing (PCH) owns two houses in Portland—the co-op on Mississippi Avenue and one in SE called the 25th Street House. They hope the transformation of Red and Black's upstairs will be a model for grassroots affordable-housing development, though it's clear that if this space succeeds it will be thanks in a large part to the kindness and flexibility of current landlord Kathy Tucker. Here are the details:

• The Red and Black's building was (most likely) originally a hotel that dates from 1874. The upstairs is currently five little offices with super high ceilings and brightly colored paint jobs.
• Unlike most housing transformations, turning the offices into living space does not require a major capital cost. All the co-opers are planning to install is a bathtub and one additional wall. The five bedrooms will share a single kitchen and bathroom. Each room will rent for $365 and the rent is fixed unless the loan rate changes.
• Current landlord Kathy Tucker is providing the loan for the building, requiring only a $50,000 down payment on a property worth at least $600,000. Knowing that Red and Black had originally intended to buy the building when they moved in three years ago, Tucker gave them the first opportunity to buy her out.
• The house will have income restrictions, like PCH's other two co-ops: 75 percent of the residents must be making less than $39,000 (which is 80 percent of the metro median income).
• The biggest hurdle for the development was figuring out how to split management of the building between PCH (which is a nonprofit) and the Red and Black. In the end, the groups couldn't figure out a way to split ownership in a legal and logical way before the down payment deadline, so Red and Black is technically going to own the entire building and PCH will just help the house create its own nonprofit and "figure out the nonprofit ownership details later."

"The biggest reason for doing this is that it's a model for doing affordable housing and urban density that I think is being ignored," says Langley. "On my street, Mississippi, they built a six-unit condo building that ended up going into foreclosure because people couldn't afford the units. You can make dense houses affordable by using the stuff that's already there and you're taking the property of the speculative market forever."

So will it work? We'll have to wait and see. But the experiment is beginning very soon: The first residents move in tomorrow.

Update: You want photos of the rooms? I got photos of the rooms! They're below the cut.

Update Update: As of Tuesday, February 1st, the Red and Black met their goal! People donated or made small loans totaling $51,776.

It's a nice space upstairs—old wood floors and spacious high ceilings. I think it would feel a bit small living there with five strangers, but I'm also the kind of person who balks at the idea of "official house meetings."

Hilarious paint/carpet combo.
  • Hilarious paint/carpet combo.
Cute kitchen.
  • Cute kitchen.