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Monday, August 14, 2006

True colors

An interesting little story got lost in the media void that is the Saturday paper. The O reported that the developer interests down in the SoWhat district of Portland are twisting the city's arm pretty hard to not spend too much of their precious urban renewal dollars on affordable housing:

An advisory committee mainly of property owners with some residents of the emerging South Waterfront area has come out against a citywide policy that would require such redevelopment projects to spend about one-third of their public money on affordable housing. While the committee said it favors funding for such projects in South Waterfront and across the city, it did not favor having a "predetermined set aside" that might leave less money for other priorities....

Committee members said they felt the City Council's proposal would restrict their decision-making too much year-to-year and shortchange budgets for parks, a riverfront greenway and streets in the mostly vacant industrial area. Like many urban renewal areas, the one that covers the South Waterfront is short of cash for a wide range of projects.

Committee members, at a meeting Thursday, were concerned about how to fund road projects costing tens of millions of dollars and a lush riverfront greenway that could cost $30 million or more. Costs for many of the parks and other amenities foreseen in the area are still unknown.

"Those are the kinds of things the council needs to understand," said Rick Saito, who along with some partners owns 3.6 acres in the district.

What arrogance. Here the city is shelling out nine figures for their little la-la land already, and these folks want to make sure that more city money goes for their landscaping instead of a few places where normal people can live. Screw the affordable housing, let's build more park for the condo dwellers.

When they sold SoWhat to former Mayor Katz and the rest of the then-City Hall crew (two of whom just got themselves so easily re-elected), Homer Williams, Peter Kohler, and Neil Goldschmidt made all sorts of promises. Nanotechnology jobs. Biotechnology jobs. Affordable housing. Towers so thin they'd be like the teeth of a comb. A $15 million aerial tram [rim shot].

And if they get their way, every one of them will turn out to be a bald-faced lie.

What's really galling is Sam Adams, the developers' new b*tch on the City Council. Formerly Vera's "economic development" expert (a laughable credential), now he's ready to play ball with the condo crew, just like his old boss always did:

Part of the disagreement appears to stem from whether the council wants all urban renewal areas to allocate the same percentage of budgets to affordable housing.

"A one size fits all approach is not good," said Mark Williams, Oregon Health & Science University's manager overseeing the university expansion in South Waterfront.

For his part, Adams said he doesn't want to see a single requirement for all the areas. Some of the areas are focused on industrial development and don't even have residential zoned land, he noted.

Extending debt levels of some districts could help them all reach an average of 30 percent funding across all the districts, he said.

There you go. You can smell it, can't you? Homer wins again.

Commissioner Sten wasn't available for the O story. But now that he's re-elected, you wonder whether he'll give in to these guys, too. My opinion of him and the rest of his colleagues would improve a great deal if they imposed the 30 percent requirement, and told OHSU and Homer what they should have told them five years ago: No.

Bill McDonald over at Portland Freelancer called b.s. on this over the weekend as well. It's an important issue that shouldn't be allowed to waste away on a Saturday. Let's talk about it on a Monday.

Comments (1)

I know I read the article on Saturday, and just felt another nail in the coffin of government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

If you step back and look at it, City/County goverment is so far from its core mission of providing vital services so that all people, especially regular folks can have good schools for thier kids, be able to get to and from work in reasonable traffic, afford a home, and feel safe on the streets and in thier homes.

You look at the County Jail situation, sitting empty tweekers galore on the streets, the people being asked to pass Levy's in November if they want to keep schools and libraries afloat and pay for a pension plan for the public safety officers, and house prices going through the roof.

What is the focus, how to subsidize $635/sq-ft condos and multi million dollar parks, or as you so aptly put it landscaping for free. While some older established neighborhoods don't even have a park, or the features like wading pools are in disrepair and just not working.

But I keep waiting for people to start saying no, enough, but it seems to just keep going South.

Posted by: John Capardoe at August 14, 2006 05:31 AM

Adams is right, of course. Since some projects are non-residential, the residential areas, Including SoWat, would have to have more than 30 percent of their funding devoted to low-cost housing so that the average can be met.

Posted by: Allan L. at August 14, 2006 07:06 AM

Allan L.

If you look at employment on pill hill, yes, the biowhiztecs and research doctors are there for the Condo Palaces, but what about the orderlies who change the bedpans, and the food service workers who feed the patients, etc. If we pay for a $57 million Tram to carry the Doc's in style from thier tax fee offices, to the hill which is just a streetcar ride from thier Pearl or quick walk from thier tax abated SoWa Condo, don't you think we should be able to squeeze out some affordable housing for the poor working stiffs which I am sure greatly outnumber the professionals, to have families closer than a 2-4 hour daily commute out to Hillsboro, or Gresham where they can afford housing.

Posted by: John Capardoe at August 14, 2006 07:29 AM

Amen - You think Sam hears any of this? He has his buddies (the developers) who have sold him on this gleaming new city (Pearl + SoWa) concept while the rest of town can go to hell in his eyes.

Heck, the Pearl is still going on with the Gerdling-Edlen (great name!) theater nonsense. CoP has financed this to the tune of $35M (same as PGE Park price.) Meanwhile he is trying to convince us that some theater company that has barely ever broken even can pay the mortgage.

How do these people keep getting in office?

Posted by: Steve at August 14, 2006 07:42 AM

Sam Adams is one confused commish.
"Extending debt levels of some districts" will only increase the overall spending and do nothing for the percentage going towards "affordable housing".
In terms of SoWa, the city, all of them, elected or appointed are a pack of liars.

SoWa is broke.
The many public improvement projects, besides the Tram, are far over budget and lacking funding just like the Tram.
The greater SoWa deficit and cost is a growing fiscal mess.
Adams, in pursuing higher debt levels is trying to covertly bail this monster out.
But in his mismanagement and scramble to grab more and more funding, through any means, he knowingly fails to account for paying back the borrowing with interest which will primarily come from property tax revenue which would be feeding basic services.

Increasing TIF limits and unleashing another unjustified reckless round of Urban Renewal chaos is the worst possible treatment for the greater misappropriation problems.

The haphazard call for 30% of UR funding to be for affordable housing is a poorly thought out pipe dream by politicians ill-equipped to decide even the most basic of city budgets.

30% of what? The planned plans or the actual spending?
Where is the So called affordable housing supposed to be? In SoWa?
Why? If the UR spending has grown to $300 million in public improvements there that would mean $100 million for affordable housing.
You've got to be kidding right?
That only means new and higher taxes, in addition to TIF and LIDs will be required to build the SoWa district.
Should the city be spending $100 million in property taxes, (that's what UR is), for affordable housing in SoWa?
The money robs basic services folks.

Screw 'this' affordable housing. This approach will only deliver the fewest housing units for the highest cost and serve very few, and none of which will be truly low income housing.

How about affordable government services?

This whole current Urban Renewal mess is the most misrepresented, poorly planned, dishonest crazy spending in city history.

Not to mention that OHSU polls show the bulk of their employees DO NOT WANT and CANNOT AFFORD whatever housing SoWa will ultimately contain.
Tram or no Tram.

The real zinger here is why is the city council pondering some new formula for spending when, by their own admission, are still waiting for the PDC to hand over spending records?

A list of monies already or about to be paid OHSU resulting from the Tram and SoWa "negotiations" is not available.
An updated SoWa budget is not available.
A public improvements projects costs list is not available.
Sam and company haven't the slightest idea what SoWa along with other UR plans will cost.

An O story last week mentioned that the PDC said some costs for SoWa are still unknown.
Bullshat! According to the SoWa URAC (citizen advisory committee) the PDC took out the numbers (as they rose) and left blank line items for SoWa because projects are so far over budget.

This is clearly unethical at best.
and defrauding the public at worst.

So why the irresponsible call for some new formula?

Is this a joke?
Anyone laughing?

Posted by: Steve Schopp at August 14, 2006 08:15 AM

John: I (again) failed to be clear. I'm totally with you on this -- I would expect the city, if it's following its own guidelines and the principle Adams articulated, to devote more than 30% of its SoWat funding to affordable housing. That's what I meant to say in the first place.

Posted by: Allan L. at August 14, 2006 09:05 AM

House Broke

Behind the statistics lie the shattered dreams. [. . .] While the delinquency rate for conventional prime loans remained low at 2.25 percent in the first quarter of 2006, Mortgage Bankers Association figures show it as as much higher -- 11.5 percent and 12.2 percent respectively -- among those who took out sub-prime mortgages or mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which are aimed at lower income buyers. More than one out of every 10 homebuyers with this type of mortgage is behind in payments --some by three months or more.

Behind the whole Affordable Housing game (Bush's Ownership Society game) is to saddle folks with debt, public and private.

Even some folks at Harvard noted that the ratio of interest payments to wages (holding aside interest rates and price levels on homes) has reached record levels.

In November, 2005, I had asked for a waiver of the fee to obtain a duplicate of tax roll data from the Multnomah County assessor. I argued that it was criminal to use as evidence of high levels of prices (code for high levels of wealth) deals facilitated with a range of federally-related lending instruments (with the condition of owner occupancy). And I guess the sub-prime lending instruments too. The criminality is related to the desire to boost the bonding authority of the City of Portland, and other local jurisdictions. It fits within the realm of knowing and intentional deceit of the bond market, thus overlapping with the role of federal folks to tag local folks.

Sam wants to engage in a catch 22 of using high prices as a reason to justify issuance of bonds to further distribute bennies and keep price levels higher than anything remotely close to a market equilibrium that is free from such games.

Lower prices means more affordability. And a lower property tax burden to boot.

If you isolate on the ratio between "Affordable Housing" (fancy framing for one form of landlord subsidy, as practiced here) and essential services and parks you will miss the boat entirely. My measure is that of the Rocking Chair test, the point at which the average Joe can have their home paid off and then sit back and enjoy the sounds of birds and kids. It is incompatible with the notion of artificially boosting home prices, from the perspective of affordability for the poor and the next generation.

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at August 14, 2006 09:14 AM

What about a tapayer initiated public inquiry. Neil represents sowhat property owners. Tom Imenson, his partner, chairs OHSU Board when tram is shoved through,peter K heads OHSU, lands on texas board on PGE purchase while public investment board containing neil's wife and NW natural gas executive Mark ? tied to neil, funds texas group. Homer, Neils best friend(big O story) gets land deals. Tom Walsh, former tri-met czar married to former governer aid and political operative McCaig and whose son marries one of the mean girls,and another neil croney gets construction contracts.Linburg, neils planning director heads tram group, hires Vic Rhodes, former head of PDOT as tram consultant, his former employee Matt Brown, who lied to council goes to work for Homer, Sam shoves through tram as Vera's top aid. Need I go on.

Look at who has been involved in light rail. same players. Add in Bragdon family ties to neil and teddy, metro and the upcoming publically purchased hotel and here we go again. Its more tax payer money and tax cedits to the mafia that runs this state, under the banner of liberalism, new urbanism and sustainability.Truth is their nothing but a band of rich, greedy, power hungrey phonies and shame on those who attempt to defend them.

Posted by: mroc at August 14, 2006 09:47 AM

"""and shame on those who attempt to defend them"""

they hang out at portlandtransport.com sharing planner's and various agency's propaganda while helping to promote every scheme that surfaces

Posted by: Steve Schopp at August 14, 2006 10:02 AM


Posted by: Robert Canfield at August 14, 2006 10:13 AM

For his part, Adams said he doesn't want to see a single requirement for all the areas. Some of the areas are focused on industrial development and don't even have residential zoned land, he noted.

The crux of the South Waterfront Plan was to change the zoning from industrial (no homes allowed) to high intensity commercial and employment, CX and EX (homes allowed in both). That was far more of a "linchpin" than the tram, in reality. Most of South Waterfront is covered by a "required residential" overlay. Even in the areas where residential isn't required, it's allowed.

In the original plan, the development was supposed to be mostly jobs. Then it turned out (shock, horror) that those biotech jobs weren't coming, and "the market required" more housing. Now apparently those homes can't possibly include the required percentage of affordability. Is there anyone in the city who is surprised by this announcement? Probably not. Sadly, not many care.

Posted by: Amanda Fritz at August 14, 2006 10:19 AM

"""Then it turned out (shock, horror) that those biotech jobs weren't coming"""

I get your point, but
"turned out" is a polite way to put it.

There never was anything backing up that claim.
It started as a fraud and will live as the fraud it is.

"""Sadly, not many care"""

Perfectly said!

Along with the sweeping zoning changes being the linchpin is the 100s of millions in free infrastructure for the high rise condo's.

Without the windfall zone changes and enormous Urban Renewal subsidies SoWa would not have happened.

Instead, less dense, more compataible, yet attracive and urban improvements by the private property owners would have occured leaving countless millions to pay for genuine public improvements and basic services.

Now for many decades the bulk of the property taxes from the 409 acre SoWa district will never arrive at any basic services budgets.

SoWa UR debt service alone promises to devour 100s of millions in SoWa property taxes during the next few decades.

The 1999 plan, having fallen apart at the recklessly stiched seams will far exceed the cost deemed at the time to make the plan "feasible".

There is no longer anything resembling "feasiblity" as PDC Staff condluded the outset in 1999 when they recommended the "plan" be approved.

Today, many years later, there is not the slightest feel of responsibility coming from this agency. SoWa feasibility is useless and outdated as it's on to the next boondoggle and falsified staff report.

Posted by: Steve Schopp at August 14, 2006 10:58 AM

"It turned out" was sarcasm, Steve. When I asked at the Planning Commission how Portland would compete with existing biotech centers in Seattle and San Francisco, the answer was, "That's not what the consultant looked at. When compared with Pittsburgh and North Carolina, Portland is ripe for biotech."

Let's remember, though, that the person who worked hardest to put affordable housing in the South Waterfront plan was Ernie Bonner, who served as Planning Director under Neil Goldschmidt. Ernie epitomized the finest in moral thinking and action that matched it. Without his insistence on the Planning Commission, there wouldn't have been even the aspiration of a mix of housing affordability in the plan.

Posted by: Amanda Fritz at August 14, 2006 11:16 AM

More debt is Sam the Tram's new (old) answer. And already the city's out on a limb down there, banking on a further rise in the condo market. Dream on, boys.

When the municipal bankruptcy comes, maybe more people will care.

Posted by: Jack Bog at August 14, 2006 11:23 AM

Sam Adams to the City's poor:

"You can try to live here, but don't try to shop!"

Posted by: Tram Adams at August 14, 2006 11:59 AM

What I'm looking forward to is when one of the council says, "What's the city doing telling private builders what percentage of homes have to be affordable, anyway? That should be left to the marketplace. The purpose of government is to govern - not to get into business decisions with developers. The city council already has a job - they're supposed to be serving the voters." That's the speech that will finally blow out the irony meter for me.

Posted by: Bill McDonald at August 14, 2006 12:50 PM

I just recently realized that the billboard past the new skytram is for the Lottery! Not a cost calculator for the skytram! I don't know if that's good news or bad news.

Posted by: brekin at August 14, 2006 04:33 PM

I think there are many who DO care about preserving/promoting affordable housing. But too many Portland area activists seem to lack discernment and/or stamina. Consequently, they get sucked into some real scams and non-starter projects (billed as historic and innovative, of course). It never seems to stop.
Mobile home parks closing for upscale developmenet is a hot issue. Lawyers who try to step up to the plate to see that tenants' rights are protected can find themselves in a hornet's nest of sharpie legal practices; it is evil. I think we would have more affordable housing and fewer problems if: 1) Planners planned instead of "visioning/hallucinating?; if they focused on compiling honest housing inventories and formulating strategies for PRESERVING exisitng affordable housing., and 2) The Oregon State Bar actually DISCIPLINED high level sharpie tactics instead of deferring to the lawyers who utilize them. (And the newsmedia scruntinized the situation instead of bowing down to the sharpies). They wouldn't really need 20/20 vision and herculean strength to do this; just one vertebrae of backbone and a legally blind eye.

Posted by: Cynthia at August 14, 2006 09:21 PM

Clever? Obviously. But character? Nah.

If you're one of the people or companies or agencies named in this thread who's caused all this mess -- here's another chance to show those of us, the people that you've outmaneuvered, that you've nonetheless got onions. Face the music and try to at least start to answer the questions posed.

Speaking of onions, I pine for the days when Mildred would be down at Civic Stadium, standing alone on the sidelines working hard on that Marlboro watching the Timbers play. She'd be trying to figure out where it all went wrong and how she'd deal with it in the morning.

Posted by: got logic? at August 15, 2006 05:54 AM

How do these people keep getting in office?

Its all done with mirrors...

Posted by: Jon at August 15, 2006 07:22 AM

Is there anyone in the city who is surprised by this announcement? Probably not. Sadly, not many care.

Yup. People around here seem to be blinded by ideology, and are happy as long as there are "D's" in office. They can do no wrong.
Unfortunately, it doesnt matter what party you belong to, they are all hosed. Its not power that corrupts, it politics in general.

Posted by: Jon at August 15, 2006 08:04 AM

"Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of city council?"

I think many of us do. What do we do about it?

Posted by: The Shadow at August 15, 2006 04:36 PM

Amanda: Not to take anything away from Ernie Bonner's efforts, but I think you'll agree that there were many adovocates for housing in all the 12 years of North Macadam URA planning committee meetings. There were several committee members who made Housing a major component of NM if it was to proceed. CTLH Neighborhood Assn. made it one of its top priorities along with the Greenway, and Transportation. But isn't it strange how these three components have ended up to be NOT funded or UNDER funded? It is time to blow the whistle.

Posted by: Jerry at August 15, 2006 08:47 PM

[Posted as indicated; restored later.]

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