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Readers' Letters: City's affordable housing solutions too costly

Thank you to reporter Peter Korn for citing another aspect of affordable housing (High cost of “affordable,” Feb. 6). I concur with Rob Justus’ experiences and conclusions as noted in the article.

Another comparison as to how unaffordable so-called “affordable housing” misses the boat, besides with the Bud Clark Commons, is the recently completed John Gray Affordable Housing building in South Waterfront. Each apartment cost more than $265,000, and that doesn’t include the land and administrative costs under the Portland Development Commission’s jurisdiction.

Another aspect of all these affordable housing buildings is that most are built by nonprofits, meaning that they pay no property taxes, besides eating up several tax subsidies. Many times large grants are given to each project.

Jean DeMaster, the executive director of Human Solutions, needs to listen to these opinions that have been expressed many times in past years in all kinds of committees and hearings. Many PDC Urban Renewal Advisory Committee members (17 urban renewal areas now) have expressed comments similar to Justus’.

Jerry Ward

Southwest Portland

Demand changes to make housing affordable

For far too long the burden of affordable housing has been placed on the shoulders of the city’s taxpayers (High cost of “affordable,” Feb. 6).

In truth, the way to amend or correct has been available for the past decade but fallen on governmental officials’ deaf ears. We are responsible, and we should be providing housing to all our homeless, as one of the top 10 best cities in America to live.

This article provides a small glimpse of some of the components that can fix the problem. There are many more. However, you need leadership, with accountability, to make the hard commitment for real change.

We are 12,000 housing units shy, with homeless all over the urban streets. It’s ridiculous, and we should all be ashamed.

Call the mayor’s office, your commissioners’ offices, and the city housing authorities and demand change. We are better than this, we deserve better than this, and if they don’t make a change, use your voice and vote for people who will stand behind their promises when elected and follow through on making Portland a great place once again.

It’s in our control.

Mark Madden,

President and CEO

WDC Properties/EkoHaus PDX Housing

Northwest Portland

New housing for homeless not needed

The argument that a shortage of affordable housing calls for subsidizing the construction of new units has a serious flaw (High cost of “affordable,” Feb. 6). Almost all people are currently housed.

If we think that their housing is too expensive (commonly called unaffordable), the cheapest solution is for the government to pay a portion of the rent. The housing voucher program does that. This program also ensures that its participants live in units that meet minimum standards.

Building new units is a much more expensive solution to the affordability problem. We do not need to construct new units to house the homeless. The number of people who are homeless is far less than the number of vacant units, indeed, far less than the number of vacant units renting for less than the median.

In the entire country, there are only about 600,000 homeless people on a single night, and more than 3.6 million vacant units available for rent. Even if all homeless people were single, they easily could be accommodated in vacant existing units, and that would be much less expensive than building new units for them.

Furthermore, most of the 600,000 people who are homeless each night already have roofs over their heads. They are in a special type of subsidized housing called homeless shelters. The best shelters are so nice that it’s very difficult to get people living in them to leave.

Edgar O. Olsen

Department of Economics, University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Va.

What do we tell the other two families?

It just strikes me that when we spend $200,000 of limited public funds to build one apartment (High cost of “affordable,” Feb. 6), instead of building three $70,000 apartments, we’re telling two families that they get nothing or they can just sleep in the streets.

Joe Cortright

Impresa Inc.

Northeast Portland

Justus has practical solution to housing

We need to start somewhere, and soon. Seems like Rob Justus’ model is much more viable and practical for Portland (High cost of “affordable,” Feb. 6).

I’m not happy about nonunion wages, but obviously something needs to change in order to get these apartments down to $70,000 per unit. I haven’t seen those built with that amount, but I have friends who have. They assert that the apartments are very nice and quite livable. Nobody needs to live in a mansion, including the middle-income wage-earner.

Jan Rose

Colton

Standards should be raised, not lowered

“Should housing standards be lowered to help more homeless?” you ask (in a subhead to the story, High cost of “affordable,” Feb. 6).

Answer: “Housing standards should be raised to help the homeless!”

Clyde List

Sherwood

TriMet workers’ union acting greedy

How much do bus drivers need to get paid? (TriMet audit leaves agency, union at odds, Feb. 6) And how much do they need in terms of leave time, paid vacation time, and in terms of pensions?

I’m sorry, but I’m not sympathetic toward the union. TriMet employees already are among the best paid in the nation, and, indeed, their wages and benefits are reflected in fares, certainly more so than a single director’s salary and benefits.

While I’m all about the right to collective bargaining, I also feel that unions often tend to be greedy and very narrowly self-interested about it, at the price of increased costs in goods and services.

Corwin McAllister

Portland

PPS board has too much power

Thanks to reporter Jennifer Anderson for a good article (Smith’s sixth-year evaluation sidetracked by big PPS issues, Feb. 6). I agree with many of the points raised here.

I used to attend board committee meetings. The discussion usually went much deeper than at current board meetings, and there was much more give-and-take between board members and staff. Even then, though, it felt too much like staff was running the show. Staff usually set the agenda for meetings instead of board members, for example.

I think that currently board members know much less about what’s going on in the administration building and out in the schools. The board also used to regularly rotate co-chairs, so that power was shared. That doesn’t seem to be the case with this board.

Scott Bailey

Northeast Portland

PPS subcommittees had a lot of worth

I agree with Portland Public Schools board members Steve Buel and Bobbie Regan that when the school board abandoned its subcommittees, it shuttered thoughtful discussion before items were brought to the whole board for a decision (Smith’s sixth-year evaluation sidetracked by big PPS issues, Feb. 6).

For three years, as Portland Association of Teachers vice president, I attended most subcommittee meetings, which were open to the public with a posted agenda. Held in a large conference room, a reporter often was present, as was PAT and other stakeholders.

The three board members engaged in serious examinations of resolutions to be brought to the whole board, sought information from senior staff, learned about new programs from principals and teachers, and listened to parent and community coalitions. While the board tightly controlled the agenda, it was clear to me that their serious attention to the issues prepared them to offer the whole board well-considered proposals to support, or not.

The school district is a large and complex organization with many moving parts, and in eliminating this open process, board members abdicated their commitment to the people of Portland who care deeply about their schools. By restricting their own process, the board members have allowed themselves to be informed and controlled by the superintendent and her small circle.

Gail Black

Retired PPS teacher

Northeast Portland