FOR A CITY that's been lax on affordable housing goals, June 10 was a good day.
That morning, the Portland City Council handed over $7.1 million and a 10,000-square-foot plot of Lloyd District property for Miracles Central, a proposed six-story development that will feature 47 units of cheap housing and on-site treatment for people looking to find their feet.
Hours later, the Portland Development Commission announced it finally struck a deal with the moneyed Zidell family to build on 30 undeveloped acres near the South Waterfront. Written into an agreement the city council will consider in coming weeks is a long-anticipated provision that lets the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) purchase a South Waterfront plot that will hold around 200 affordable units.
It was a well-placed flourish as Portland is losing its mind over housing prices. While the city's private developers gleefully rush to build enough supply to satisfy the thousands of would-be Portlanders annually swarming into town, there's a fresh awareness that affordable housing is a vital piece of that growth.
"The market's kind of crazy right now," Home Forward Director Michael Buonocore told city commissioners at last week's council meeting. "Affordable housing is our long-term system solution to homelessness."
Buonocore's organization distributes vouchers to those who need assistance with monthly rent, but it's having less success placing people in this market than it has in decades. So Home Forward's shifting its focus somewhat. The Oregonian reported in April that the organization is forgoing hundreds of rental vouchers so it can help supply dedicated cheap housing in projects like those announced June 10.
But here's the thing about these developments: They're no good to people who need help today. The South Waterfront plot announced last week won't be bought for years, according to the PDC's agreement. Miracles Central, which the city may end up footing half the bill for, has a faster timeline—but still probably won't be ready until late next year.
In hopes of figuring out just how much help is on the way for people being shuffled around by Portland's housing turbulence, I asked the PHB for a tally of incoming affordable units.
That's a surprisingly difficult number to get, given all the scrutiny around housing. Spokeswoman Martha Calhoon first sent me a list of five developments, the most immediate of which—another 200-unit development planned in the River Place neighborhood—isn't slated to break ground until 2017. For the others, the city's still looking for qualified partners, or hasn't begun hashing out timelines.
But that's not the full picture. PHB expects five housing projects will be completed by this fall. Most are merely rehabilitations of existing affordable housing, Calhoon says, but the Housing Bureau also expects 122 new units—split between East Portland and Old Town—will be ready by October.
It's incremental progress, sure. But the decisions officials trumpeted on June 10 show we're doing better. Meanwhile, there's still no indication that it's nearly enough.