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The city favors a less challenging option that would serve a slightly higher income population 

PMG FILE PHOTO - Wilsonville City Council is considering moving forward with affordable housing development at the Wilsonville Transit Center.

The first project that would carry out the vision of the Wilsonville government's plan to foster more affordable housing in town is beginning to set in motion.

During a work session Thursday, Sept. 9, Wilsonville City Council considered two options for a project that could add approximately 100 affordable housing units at the Wilsonville Transit Center. The city will need to decide on a general framework before it can move on to other tasks like finding a nonprofit to partner with, applying for grant funding and coming to an agreement with a developer. 

The site is projected to occupy 1.2 acres  on a 3.4-acre property and will need to be partitioned by the city before it is sold to a developer. The site was chosen in large part because it's one of the view viable sites in Wilsonville that the city owns. 

While planning commissioners had previously criticized this project for potentially creating affordable housing units that are isolated from the rest of the community, Leland Consulting Group team members said potential funders for the project liked the location. 

Along with quick access to transit, the site resides less than a mile from  jobs and commercial services. Transportation facilities will also be improved once the I-5 bicycle and pedestrian bridge and related Town Center Plan improvements are completed. 

"We think it's really important from the point of view of future residents who could live here and the funders of affordable housing development, those funders are looking to all those things that are available in close proximity: jobs, parks in Villebois, commercial services, bike and pedestrian facilities on Barber (Street) today and in the future (I-5 bridge)," said Brian Vanneman with Leland Consulting Group. 

Of the two options presented, the council seemed to favor the one that may serve a slightly higher income group (30-60% of the area median income compared to 0-60%) and have bigger units. This was in part because the former proposal qualified for a funding source that was non-competitive while the other required funding from competitive sources like the Metro affordable housing bond. The deadline for grant funding was also much tighter. The preferred project would provide family housing with potential services geared toward the Latinx community, while the other effort would provide housing and services for the homeless or former homeless veterans. 

"Because the Metro Bond and 9% LIHTC (low-income housing tax credit) funding sources are both competitive, with applications due in the first four to six months of 2022, Project 1 also implies an aggressive timeline for this TOD project," the Leland Consulting Group report read. 

"We don't want to force something that's too challenging and leave us with nothing," Mayor Julie Fitzgerald said. 

Councilor Joann Linville was concerned that especially low-income folks wouldn't be able to live in the complex under the rules of the preferred proposal, though Vanneman said housing vouchers could be a tool they could use to allow a higher proportion of those people to live there. 

"One way to address that, we could look at project two (preferred project) and see how we could be potentially serving households at a lower median income. The more units we could get in project two that could be serving 30, 40, 50% (of median income) would be more preferable," Vanneman said. 

One decision the city will need to make is whether to change the zoning on the property. It's currently zoned for commercial use but, according to Vanneman, including a commercial establishment on the bottom floor of the building would bring prevailing wage laws into the picture. Developers also can't qualify for grants if they try to use commercial space to service debt. These factors would create a $5 million funding gap for the project and the city may need to rezone the property to avoid the elevated price tag. 

Councilor Ben West suggested some commercial options that would be available for the community while Councilor Charlotte Lehan felt that this project was much different than a proposal in Villebois to build out the village center – where the council favors commercial development below three floors of market-rate housing. Along with the funding implications, Lehan noted that the transit development wouldn't serve a densely populated neighborhood, unlike in Villebois, which is why publicly-available commercial spaces wouldn't make sense. 

Vanneman said parking could be an issue but that both South Metro Area Regional Transit and TriMet, which use the transit center, said they could share parking as spaces at the transit center are usually vacant. 

The council asked Leland Consulting Group to bring back examples of successful transit-oriented housing developments nationwide and to provide a clearer picture on the feasibility of the more challenging option to a later meeting.

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