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Abigail's party

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Canaries in a gold mine: locals pols, including Suzanne Bonamici and Mayor Hales, showed up for the groundbreaking of the Abigail apartments last week.They’re about to fill in another square in the tic-tac-toe game that is the development of the North Pearl District.

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, developers, architects and politicians gathered for the groundbreaking of the Abigail, a new residential building which should be completed by fall 2015.

It is classed as a mixed income project, meaning that it mixes affordable and market-rate apartments. Of the 155 units, 127 will be affordable housing, for families earning 30 percent to 60 percent of the median income ($20,800 to $41,640). They will range from studios to three-bedroom apartments.

The building will be wedged in by the railroad tracks that run parallel with NW Naito Parkway. Its front will be on an extension of NW 13th Avenue and its south side on NW Savier Street, with access to the Fields Park.

It will have retail and community spaces at ground level. Two six-story buildings, linked by a transparent bridge building, will mix residents of different income levels, with the higher priced, market rate apartments being on the upper levels.

Affordable housing advocates showed up in spades. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici who is up for election, Mayor Charlie Hales as well as Tracy Manning from the Portland Housing Bureau. Dan Saltzman sent a staffer.

Photo Credit: COURTESY: ANKROM MOISAN ASSOCIATED ARCHITECTS - Urban pioneers: The Abigail mixed income housing will bring a more modern look to the North Pearl, as well as new retail and residents.The developer is BRIDGE Housing from San Francisco.

“BRIDGE is excited about being here,” said Cynthia Parker, the CEO. “I don’t think you can be a carpet bagger when you are involved at this level. There are 21 million households who are not able to rent housing within their means.”

Parker said BRIDGE has created 15,000 units of affordable housing and has 700 units planned for the Pearl. A Portland State University graduate, she pointed out both Portland’s livable city reputation and its new status as one of the two hottest real estate markets in the country.

“I can remember when the Pearl was the Warehouse District.”

Mayor Hales also harked back 30 years, to when there were 2,000 vacant and abandoned houses in North and Northeast Portland.

“The neighborhood association district coalition in Southeast was called Southeast Uplift. Anybody think Ladd’s Addition needs uplift any more?” he asked the crowd. “The housing market has changed a lot and now the school system is on the rise. It’s abundantly clear that the flight to the suburbs was a round trip, and all those people want to live here now.”

Hales told the Tribune, “The conventional wisdom was the problem in the inner city was disinvestment, now it’s hyper investment. We have the lowest office vacancy rate in the country, $400 a square foot condos all around us, and the highest rate of in migration of college graduates in the country. All that means it’s really hard to provide affordable housing.” He held up San Francisco as the cautionary tale.

“As the United States shifts more to an urban economy, how do you keep families in the city? Well the City has to have skin in the game and put some of our housing investment in to create some of this affordable housing.”

He added, “In those days the mindset was the close-in neighborhoods were fighting decline. Now we’re fighting gentrification. Thirty years isn’t that long to go from such a different housing environment. It shows you’ve got to adapt.”

Mixing incomes in the same building is still relatively rare. There are six market rate units in the affordable Sitka nearby.

“In the Pearl you often have market and affordable next to each other and often people don’t know which is which. Our goal is to make it a really nice affordable place to live,” said Nicole Peterson, BRIDGE’s Director for the Pacific Northwest based in Portland.

She added that prospective residents can call for leasing opportunities to get on the wait list as soon as the construction fence goes up. “There’s a lot of pent up demand for affordable.”