Housing to target specific groups
At first glance, the proposed framework for spending the $285.4 million affordable housing bond approved by Portland voters seems too ambitious.
The Stakeholder Advisory Group convened to draft the framework recommended not only where the funds should be spent, but who should live in the 1,300 units to be preserved or built. Priority is placed on communities of color, families, the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.
When the 22-member group held hearings and conducted a survey on the draft framework, Portlanders wanted to add even more categories of people, ranging from the elderly to the mentally disabled and domestic violence survivors. When the draft framework was finalized on Sept. 27, some group members thought the existing list was too broad, but they agreed to add children to it anyway.
The City Council is scheduled to decide which — if any — of these populations to include in the final framework for spending the bond funds on Oct. 11.
Preserving or building affordable housing for specific populations is not unheard of. In fact, it is an emerging trend. If the council has any doubts about that, it only needs to look at a new partnership between Central City Council (CCC) and six major health care providers in Portland to create 379 targeted affordable housing units.
"It's an evolving approach that we've been advocating for years. The city's been tallying units, we've been saying, 'Who do you want to serve? Develop your population strategy first, then a housing strategy that responds to that,'" says Ed Blackburn, CCC's executive director who is retiring after more than 24 years with the social service agency that provides both treatment and housing.
The health care providers are Adventist Heath Portland, CareOregon, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Legacy Health, OHSU and Providence Health & Services. According to Blackburn, they have always understood that many of their poorest patients need stable housing to fully recover, but they have not understood how to provide it. But now, the Affordable Care Act is obligating them to provide more community health benefits.
In September 2016, the five hospital systems and nonprofit healthcare plan agreed to donate $21.5 million to support CCC's development of three projects designed for different groups of people in need of affordable housing.
The total cost is $90.9 million. Other contributors include Portland, Multnomah County, Metro, the state of Oregon, the Meyer Memorial Trust, and several foundations. The three projects are:
• The Charlotte B. Rutherford Place at 6905 N. Interstate Ave. It will provide 51 units of family housing and is intended to support the city's North/Northeast Neighborhood Housing Strategy to help displaced residents return to their communities. Ground was broken on the $10.8 million project Aug. 3.
• The Stark Street Apartments at Southeast Stark Street and 122nd Avenue. It is intended to provide 153 units of permanent affordable housing to those from the area who are exiting transitional housing programs, have gained employment and seek a permanent home, but who still may have barriers to housing. Ground was broken on the $27.7 million project Sept. 18.
• The Eastside Health and Housing Center at 122nd Avenue and East Burnside Street. It will provide 175 units of supportive housing, including 114 units for people in recovery from behavioral health disorders and 51 units of medical and mental health respite housing. In addition, 10 units will be set aside for palliative care for homeless adults at the end of life, and the ground floors will accommodate a new Federally Qualified Health Center providing primary care and behavioral health services for low-income adults and families. Ground is scheduled to be broken on the $52.4 million project in late October.
The projects have attracted national attention. For example, the announcement of the partnerships was covered by the New York Times, and the projects are included in a recent report titled "Innovative approaches in health and housing" by Mercy Housing and the Low Income Investment Fund for the California Endowment and the Kresge Foundation.
"Getting health systems to invest in housing has always been the Holy Grail," says Blackburn, noting that similar efforts are now starting in other parts of the country.
Unlike CCC's projects, the city cannot partner with private businesses in its affordable housing bond projects because of restrictions in the Oregon Constitution. For the first time, instead of being a minority funding partner as in the past, the city will own and operate the finished projects. This will give the council more control over the location of the projects.
When the Stakeholder Advisory Group finalized its proposed framework, it agreed a large share of the projects should be located in low-income areas at high risk of gentrification in the future. That was a last-minute switch from the draft version, which recommended that much of the housing be built near transit and employment centers, effectively excluding much of East Portland.
Although some members argued for the original version, a majority felt building in areas at risk of gentrification would help the existing residents stay in their existing neighborhoods — where many had already been forced to move after their previous neighborhoods gentrified. Making them move to a different part of town — even a more developed one — to find affordable housing was seen as traumatizing them again.
That is another decision the council will have to make on Oct. 11.