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My View: Housing network focuses on long term

Thank you for your recent articles calling attention to the challenges and opportunities for providing affordable housing and ending homelessness in Portland.

Oregon Opportunity Network is an association of organizations committed to creating affordable housing and providing opportunities for low-income individuals and families to build stronger lives and get out of poverty. We appreciate the coverage of the very important issue of providing affordable housing, and applaud all efforts to create and preserve affordable housing.

However, we feel it is important to provide additional perspective and to correct some misperceptions presented in your article.

Our members work with various federal, state and local funding programs, as well as with private banking and investment partners, to fund quality housing that: will remain affordable for at least 60 years; is an asset to the community; and provides safe, quality housing and services to help residents be successful in their housing.

Affordable housing developed by nonprofits in Portland leverages millions of dollars in federal funds and private capital. With this leveraging of funds (often a 5:1 or greater ratio of other funds to city funding) comes rigorous analysis of every aspect of a project by funders. This does add to total project costs — for reserves to mitigate long-term operating risks, and for analysis such as appraisals and traffic and environmental studies. However, as an industry, private and public lenders have learned that this upfront work creates solid projects that will serve our residents and taxpayers well for the long term.

Do the highly complex state and federal regulations increase costs and make it harder to help the people we serve? Yes, absolutely — let’s have those conversations with our federal and state lawmakers about common sense regulatory reforms. However, comparing costs for projects that have not attracted these public and private investments with those that do, is not apples to apples.

Other contributors to affordable housing costs are tied to achieving additional local, state and federal policy objectives, including:

• Wage and labor protections for the people building affordable housing.

• Increased access for minority- and women-owned small businesses.

• Energy and water conservation.

• Building affordable housing in areas where residents will have access to good schools, places to buy healthy food, and public transportation.

• Meeting design standards to ensure that new housing contributes rather than detracts from neighborhoods.

Oregon Opportunity Network welcomes a healthy dialogue that discusses the balance of diligence development, policy objectives and life-cycle cost containment. Conversations already are underway at both the local and state level with policymakers, funders and other partners about strategies to best reduce costs of affordable housing — looking at the full costs over the life of a project.

Let’s make our communities stronger by providing homes and support that help our fellow Oregonians who struggle to find pathways out of poverty. Let’s work together to find new and better ways to reduce poverty and ensure that all our neighbors have a safe, decent, affordable place to call home.

John Miller is executive director of Oregon Opportunity Network, a statewide association of affordable housing and community development organizations.