I can haz affordable housing?
  • Jason Sturgill
  • I can haz affordable housing?

By next summer Portland should have some new rules about how developers can build bigger in the Central City, and it might bring some affordable housing.

Since Oregon still can't force developers to include affordable housing in new multi-family developments, Portland City Council is trying to incentivize them to do it.

Portland City Council on Thursday enacted a resolution directing city bureaus to spend the next 12 months figuring out how to redesign the city's current density bonus program to prioritize creating affordable housing in the Central City. This vote comes after another year-long study in which an independent company looked at ways in which the city might update a set of bonuses—including creating eco-roofs, building water features, and adding bicycle storage—that Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman calls "no longer necessary of effective" in today's market.

Under the new plan, developers would be allowed to build taller or denser in exchange for building a certain number of units and setting rent at no more than 80 percent of median family income and guarantee that price point for 60 years. For one person, that's between $30,900 and $41,200 per year, and for a two person household that's between $35,200 and $47,050 per year.

Developers wanting the bonus but not interested in building affordable units on-site would need to contribute to a fund that would then be used to create affordable housing priced no more than 60 percent of median family income.

There were a lot of numbers tossed around during the hearing, with many of them predicting what amount of required affordable units would still make the bonus plan attractive to developers. But one set that stuck out came from Portland Housing Bureau Assistant Housing Director Javier Mena, who said that of Portland's communities of color, just 11 percent of African Americans earn 80 percent of MFI, while just 9 percent of Native American families earn that amount. On the other hand, 16 percent of Portland's white households earn at or below 80 percent MFO. Commissioner Amanda Fritz further broke those numbers down, stating that those percentages equal about 11,000 people of color and 32,000 white folks.

"The percentages don't quite tell the whole story," she said. "This program would be helping three times as many white people as it would people of color."

Mena agreed with Fritz' statement and said the housing bureau would need to enact specific plans to make the program equitable to everyone. They've got a year to figure out how to do that.

The resolution passed unanimously (Commissioner Steve Novick was absent) with a few minor changes. The most notable was that the original resolution required the proposed legislative changes be submitted no later than January 2016, but Saltzman conceded that was too aggressive a timeline.