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Grants target regional affordable housing

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CENTRAL CITY CONCERN - Central City Concern recently opened the 60-unit Town Center Courtyards in Happy Valley.  It is a mixed-income building that provides supportive housing services to low-income families.Sometimes it seems like the affordable housing crisis is happening only in Portland.

Surveys consistently show housing costs in the city are increasing faster than practically anyplace else in the country. Mayor Charlie Hales and the rest of the City Council have been in crisis mode for months, approving a Housing State of Emergency last October, significantly increasing city funding for affordable housing projects and placing a $258.4 million bond measure on the November ballot to build 1,300 more affordable apartment units.

However, other jurisdictions in the region have long been concerned about the lack of affordable housing in their boundaries. All of their state-required growth plans adopted since 2000 have supported the preservation and development of affordable housing. Local incentives are helping to finance new affordable housing projects in Hillsboro and other cities. A recent one is the Town Center Courtyards in Happy Valley. Clackamas County contributed $2.8 million to the $15.1 million project.

And now, five cities and one county in addition to Portland have submitted applications for a new grant program to help build even more units. The Equitable Housing Planning and Development grant program was recently created by Metro, the elected regional government. It will award $500,000 in grants this December to help cities and counties plan construction of more housing for underserved communities, including the poor, minorities, the elderly and the handicapped.

“The Metro Council created this grant program as one part of our equitable housing strategy to help communities remove barriers to building housing for families, seniors and other residents. We’ve received interesting proposals from all over the region and I’m looking forward to reviewing them,” says Metro Councilor Sam Chase, who advocated for the program.

Governments that submitted applications by the Aug. 12 deadline included Portland, which submitted two, and Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Tigard, Wilsonville, and Washington County. The projects they propose range from mapping existing unregulated affordable housing units to drafting comprehensive plans for encouraging such projects and beginning pre-development work on specific ones.

“These new zoning tools and financial strategies will not only help address our growing affordable housing shortfall, but will also serve as models for how the county and region can successfully meet our housing equity challenges,” Washington County Chair Andy Duyck and county Land Use and Transportation Director Andrew Singelakis wrote in support of their county’s application.

The grant applications — which were capped at $100,000 — total $680,936, exceeding the available money. That means not everyone will get everything they asked for.

Terminal 1 homeless center a hot-button item

Only one application is controversial. That is a Portland request for $100,000 to assess the feasibility of building a large homeless multi-service center at Terminal 1, a 14-acre parcel of city-owned industrial land that is up for sale. Exploring the concept is supported by only three of the five council members. Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted against the grant application, calling it “a waste of money.” Commissioner Nick Fish, the other opponent of that project, was absent.

Despite the controversy, the Portland Housing Bureau, which submitted both applications, said it was the city’s top priority. The other one is for a grant to encourage affordable housing preservation and construction in the Southwest Corridor, which Metro is studying for a high-capacity transit line. That application was submitted in partnership with Tigard, which submitted its own application for a grant to mitigate the project’s potential displacement of people living in existing affordable housing units.

“There is a need to address the shortage of affordable housing units in the region, and in Tigard. With the assistance of Metro’s grant, this project will lead to the construction of additional dedicated affordable housing in Tigard’s downtown and the Tigard Triangle,” Tigard Mayor John Cook wrote in support of his city’s application.

Metro’s equitable housing efforts

The grant program was created as part of an Equitable Housing Initiative led by Chase to encourage all jurisdictions in the region to develop more affordable housing to meet the needs of a variety of vulnerable populations. The term “equitable housing” is defined as “diverse, quality, physically accessible, affordable housing choices with access to opportunities, services and amenities.”

“The Portland region is successfully creating jobs and protecting livability, but we will be a stronger region when everyone can find a quality, affordable place to live,” Chase says. “We all have a role to play — government at all levels, developers, lenders and nonprofits.”

The initiative has so far included a regional Equitable Housing Leadership Summit on Feb. 1 and a handful of public forums on affordable housing issues. The grants are funded by a .12 percent construction excise tax levied by Metro on projects over $100,000, with some exemptions, such as affordable housing projects. The tax was originally created in 2006 to fund pre-development planning work in the newer area that Metro added to the urban growth boundary, which it administers. Planning grants were later expanded to other potential projects within Metro’s jurisdiction, which is the urbanized areas of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Metro has awarded $18.9 million in Community Planning and Development grants over four cycles since 2006.

This is the first cycle of the Equitable Housing Planning and Development grant program. All applications require a local match of at least 10 percent of the amount sought. It is unclear whether there will be additional funding cycles.

The grant applications will be reviewed over the next month or so by a screening committee made up of six to nine people with community, financial, planning, real estate and other expertise, and one non-voting Metro councilor. It will recommend what amount to award to the applicants to Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett, who will then make her own recommendations to the Metro Council. A work session is scheduled on the grants Nov. 1, with the final decisions set for Dec. 1.

Equitable Housing

Planning and Development grant requests

1. Applicant: Portland

Project summary: Assess the

feasibility of using Terminal 1 in Northwest Portland for a multi-service center providing shelter, services and housing to approximately 1,000 homeless people at a time to be called the Oregon Trail to Hope.

Amount requested/match/total: $100,000/$165,000/$265,000

2. Applicant: Portland

Project summary: In cooperation with the city of Tigard, set targets for affordable housing preservation and production as part of the Southwest Corridor (transit) Project within a half-mile buffer around Southwest Barbur Boulevard between both cities. Estimate potential funding sources and funding gaps to meet the targets, and build a community coalition to support reaching them.

Amount requested/match/total: $100,000/$20,000/$120,000

3. Applicant: Tigard

Project summary: Mitigate the potential displacement of affordable housing residents in Tigard’s Town Center by the Southwest Corridor (transit) Project by identifying potential sites for housing relocation and preservation, developing a funding analysis to support an anti-displacement strategy, and engaging with affordable housing residents on equitable solutions.

Amount requested/match/total: $50,000/$23,080/$73,080

4. Applicant: Beaverton

Project summary: Create an anti-displacement housing strategy that identifies strategies the city and its housing partners can implement to preserve and/or develop new affordable housing. Work will include mapping all current unregulated housing affordable to those earning less than 80 percent of the median household income and properties where affordable housing can be developed.

Amount requested/match/total: $100,000/$16,832/$116,832

5. Applicant: Milwaukie

Project summary: Feasibility analysis and preliminary site design work for four sites to examine their potential for a cottage cluster development that can provide equitable housing opportunities to a variety of groups identified by community partners, including affordable housing, workforce housing, senior housing, and special needs housing.

Amount requested/match/total: $65,000/$12,500/$77,500

6. Applicant: Oregon City

Project summary: Work with a network of local partners to evaluate the process for constructing equitable housing and removing barriers to development, as well as implementing incentives to encourage new equitable housing in areas of Oregon City that will be identified through the process.

Amount requested/match/total: $100,936/$23,714/$124,650

7. Applicant: Wilsonville

Project summary: Research, develop, adopt and begin to implement a strategy for creating more equitable housing, with a special focus in the existing Town Center area and the Frog Pond area that is being planned for new development.

Amount requested/match/total: $65,000/$11,235/$76,235

8. Applicant: Washington County

Project summary: Identify three to five potential affordable housing development sites within the corridors, centers, transit station areas and main streets identified by Metro, including county-owned property at Cornell Road and Murray Boulevard. Evaluate the sites and identify barriers to development, then draft a community plan and code revisions, and commence pre-development work on at least one of them.

Amount requested/match/total: $100,000/$50,000/$150,000