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Leaders of the Portland Development Commission were less than enthusiastic Wednesday about a plan by housing advocates to boost the amount of urban renewal funds set aside for affordable housing.


The Portland Housing Advisory Commission stirred the pot last month by recommending that half the city's main urban renewal funding be reserved for affordable housing, up from the current 30 percent requirement. That would free up an additional $82.7 million over the next decade, enough to build about 830 new affordable housing units.

Kimberly Branam, deputy director of the urban renewal agency, told the PDC board the proposal could reduce money earmarked in several urban renewal districts, such as seismic upgrades in Old Town/Chinatown, street improvements in the Gateway area, infrastructure in the Clinton Triangle on the inner east side, improvements to the south portal of the South Waterfront area, a project at Southeast 92nd and Harold Street in Lents, Johnson Creek mitigation efforts, and development of the Freeway Land site in Lents.

"We can't just find $80 million in opportunity funds," Branam said. "There would be significant tradeoffs."

Tony Barnes, the PDC budget officer, said the proposal would cut the agency's resources for urban renewal and economic development by roughly 15 percent. That would force an undermined number of staff reductions, said Patrick Quinton, PDC executive director.

Tom Kelly, PDC board chairman, said the proposal comes at an awkward time, as the agency is grappling with how it can sustain itself financially in coming years, as it depletes available tax-increment financing, the agency's primary source of urban renewal money.

Commissioner Mark Edlen said the city needs a bigger long-term fix that will address the problem for 30 to 40 years, such as a voter-approved property tax measure. Trying to tap more of PDC's tax-increment financing is a "potential short-term funding mechanism, nothing more," Edlen said.

While affordable housing advocates have united around the proposal they dubbed TIF to 50, the PDC also heard from East Portland leaders who are concerned the proposal will strip money for other urban renewal needed in Lents and Gateway.

"The need for more affordable housing is most acute west of 82nd Avenue," the group wrote in testimony to PDC. "East of 82nd, our city has dramatically different needs."

Though the TIF to 50 proposal is being fast-tracked for an expected City Council vote next month, the letter from East Portland leaders suggests a broader debate might be warranted.

"There hasn't been a full community conversation," Quinton said.

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