Note: This story has been updated with additional information about rental rates and bond expenditures.

A decade ago, the Safari Showclub operated as a strip bar on Powell Boulevard serving an array of fried foods late at night. Patrons told of handsy dancers, fish tanks full of piranhas, taxidermy big game animal heads as decor, and on one occasion, a physical fight between dancers.  

The Safari was demolished in 2018 and the site now houses 206 affordable apartments in a brand new complex. 

Tucked between a Motel 6 and Hopworks Urban Brewery, the Hazel Ying Lee building offers one, two, and three-bedroom units to income-qualifying renters.

The complex, which was built by Home Forward with roughly $33 million in Portland Housing Bond funds, is named after the first Chinese American woman to join the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. Lee was born and raised in Portland to parents who immigrated from China. She was one of eight children and attended Cleveland High School, just blocks from the new complex that now bears her name. Lee and one of her brothers both died while serving in WWII. 

Ivory Mathews, CEO of Home Forward, says the new $87 million complex in Southeast Portland demonstrates the regional housing development agency’s progress and commitment to adding affordable housing in the Portland region.

"The building’s namesake, Portland resident Hazel Ying Lee, was a remarkable and courageous trailblazer in U.S. history,” Mathews states in a news release from Home Forward. “Her legacy is proof that we can–and must–work to overcome barriers for the benefit of future generations.”   

The Hazel Ying Lee complex is the largest new construction project built with Portland Housing Bond funds, which have now been completely allocated on 1,860 affordable housing units across 15 apartment complexes in the city, far surpassing the city’s initial promise of 1,300 units. 

“We’ve stretched these dollars significantly,” says Gabriel Mathews, public information officer with the Portland Housing Bureau, “and we’ve gone further than expected with the Portland Housing Bond.”

Kitchens at the Hazel Ying Lee apartments have quartz countertops
and wood floors. courtney vaughn

Voters approved the Portland Housing Bond in 2016, which promised 1,300 units, with more than 600 of those being deeply affordable units for households making 30 percent or less of the local median income. A 2023 bond report shows the city dedicated just over $261 million toward housing projects with the bond money.

Of the 206 apartments at Hazel Ying Lee, 30 are reserved as permanent supportive housing, meaning tenants pay 30 percent of their income, regardless of whether they make $30,000 a year or $30 a year. Those units also come with wraparound services. Another 68 units are available for renters making 30 percent of the area median income (AMI is currently $81,830 for a single person) and 138 units will go to those making 60 percent AMI.

Inside the complex, murals greet visitors on each floor. Units range from utilitarian studios to two-bedroom lofts and three-bedroom units for families. A massive community room will likely be the gathering area for future pumpkin carving events and other family-oriented activities, a Home Forward staffer says. A computer room with WiFi offers a place to get work done, while the ground level offers small, recessed nooks for children to read, play, or relax in. The grounds have barbeque pits, a courtyard with outdoor seating, raised bed planters, and a children’s play area outside. 

Units boast quartz countertops, faux wood floors, and bike racks. Sunlight drenches west-facing units that offer bird's eye views of a bustling cityscape in Southeast Portland. 

Home Forward says it expects tenants will start moving in any day. 

Portland City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who was among several local public officials to attend a grand opening celebration Tuesday, says the Hazel project “exemplifies Portland’s voter-approved Housing Bond funding hard at work.” 

A large community room at the Hazel Ying Lee apartments boasts
a massive mural. courtney vaughn

"By investing in neighborhoods like Creston-Kenilworth, we are addressing the urgent need for affordable housing and helping families remain in their communities,” Rubio said.

The addition of 206 affordable housing units is a welcome sight to regional leaders, as the Portland metro area tries to tackle a homelessness and affordability crisis. The city’s latest housing needs analysis indicates Portland could use another 37,640 units of ultra affordable housing, for households who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, and another 37,030 units for households who make more than 30 percent AMI, but less than 60 percent (in other words, individuals earning about $25,000 to $49,500). An additional 13,305 units are needed for those who earn roughly $50,000 to $66,000.

Thanks to initiatives like the Portland Housing Bond, Metro Supportive Housing Services tax and Metro Affordable Housing Bond, construction on new units has ramped up over the past five years. But barriers still exist to adding more affordable homes at the rate needed to meet demand.

“While the Portland and Metro Housing Bonds have been gamechangers in our ability to rapidly construct thousands of new affordable homes all across the city, there are indeed significant hurdles that affordable housing developments encounter throughout the development process,” the Portland Housing Bureau wrote in a statement to the Mercury. 

The bureau cites financial challenges like bond financing, interest rates, inflation, and tariffs, along with finding suitable land for building as its biggest hurdles.