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Friday, February 26, 2010

SoWhat: The affordable housing lie

One of the selling points of Portland's absurd South Waterfront district, back in the days when Vera and Opie and Homer roamed City Hall with Fireman Randy and Sam the Tram, was that a goodly amount of the housing built down there was going to be "affordable." Skeptics suspected that the real agenda was a bunch of high-rise condo towers, and that all the other promises that were being made about a diverse neighborhood (and a biotech center) were a snow job.

Guess who was right.

Millions upon millions of public money has been spent toward developing low-income and middle-class housing down in SoWhat, but those units seem less likely to be built today than they were even back before the industrial jobs in the district were run out for the condo clowns.

The League of Women Voters has got it exactly right. Like quite a few astute observers, they've been watching the SoWhat debacle from the beginning, and now they'd like some proof that what was promised when this area was cleared out for ugly high-rises wasn't just a straight-out lie. Such a showing is not likely to be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, some of the same culprits who led the city down the destructive path of SoWhat are now salivating over county property near the Morrison Bridge, which they're saying they want to develop into a Pike Place-type public market, with commercial offices or high-end apartments up above. Just what Portland needs -- more downtown retail, empty offices, and vacant apartments! Of all the delusional communities on our planet, some days this one takes the cake.

Comments (18)

The "condo clowns" carried the flag on this, but the voters should also own up about their selection of public officials.

"they want to develop into a Pike Place-type public market"

That ought to make it totally soulless.

Then again, maybe Great Father and Dear Leader neon=art=neon Leonard can spend $500K to find the right kind of trash piece to give it back its Porltand wierdness.

I guess we can see the next place where their trying to inflate property values by throwing every spare bit of taxpayer money at the developers.

Oregon has spent 100 million dollars on planning for the Columbia River Crossing, and they are no closer to getting it built than they were before the 100 million was spent.

Which makes me wonder, how much money could Oregon and Portland save if they just put a moratorium on any new development for one year. No new studies, no new plans, no consultants, just take a year break and focus on the basics of city government: repairing potholes, picking up garbage and shooting unarmed black men. (I kid. I kid.)

I like Justin's moratorium idea.

Ditto that about Justin.

I hear you Justin. The city is currently undertaking a study to figure out where to create a new Urban Renewal district. The study area includes everything from the NW industrial area to PSU, and from the River up to Goose Hollow.

We really need to get over this strange idea we have that every corner of the city must be "renewed". First of all, it's impossible. There is only so much development that can happen in any city, especially one with a limited economy like ours.

Second, different parts of the city serve different purposes. Some of them may not look perfect, and yuppies may not want to hang out there, but that doesn't mean they're broken and not filling a niche.

Third, the city and PDC and metro greatly overestimate the ability of the public sector to generate development. Development is a private sector activity. That's why we get the impression that developers are steering these processes and telling the city where they want to build next, "so could you please create Urban Renewal and other huge subsidies for us." It's because they are steering it.

The Block 33 Affordable Housing issue changes were present by PDC staff in the January URAC meeting in a two minute briefing. Not one comment was made by any stakeholders serving on the URAC. But a motion was made with a comment for opposition to abandoning Housing for Block 33, and especially the PDC investing $6 Million dollars in air rights and future parking and only getting $4 Million back and not even the interest on the $6 Million invested over 4 years ago. No one offered a second for a vote.

That is how business is done in Portland- select a "citizen" advisory committee with almost all directly benefited property owners, called "stakeholders" then let them review a critical component of the whole URA and not get one comment or vote.

Why aren't the citizens of Portland fairly represented on decisions of this magnitude that also costs taxpayers so much, like over $2.5 Million lost? That's not small change.

Lighten up guys! When those thirty thousand biotech jobs kick in we'll be rolling in the dough!

It's Dubai on the Willamette

I'd be very much in favor of a giant neon bald Randy Leonard sign conspicuously adorning the front of the Market.

yuk yuk 'dubai on the willamette' good one!
Still with global warming , it will turn into Venice on the Willamette. but I love garbage filled smelly canals , i'm funny that way. + some of the buried
bodies will pop up from the shallow graves of SOWHAT....

Im pretty sure the new max line through there will spur some kind of heavily subsidized apartment complex with affordable $800/month 300 sq ft studios.

How about two years, "no new anything" budget. No development, no new transportation projects, nothing new. Just maintain the existing infrastructure and services. That would extend to no new CityFleet vehicles, no new police cars, no new fire trucks, no new water line extensions to subdivisions, no new parks...

Right on Erik H., AND how about no new staff positions in Mayor Zsa Zsa's office too!

All this incompetance and corruption is mind boggling. My only comfort is that somewhere there is a bitter, former insider who knows where all the skeletons are hidden and is collaborating with Phil Stanford on a whopping political tell-all.

I like your idea of “no new nothing” for two years.

We would be wise to just have a breather to evaluate what has taken place in our city and take care of basic problems.
We do not need continuous planning and changes until we don't recognize our city anymore.

The frenzy of questionable projects and decisions in our city have caused some of us to wonder week after week what insane matter or project we will be witnessing next. This is in my opinion not normal, but abusive.

Just give SoWhat some time. Soon enough, all of the housing will be "affordable".

The reaction to this story is all wrong. We should be cheering this decision, not criticizing it.

Remember, the whole point of urban renewal is to increase the property tax base by increasing property values. The 30% affordable housing set-aside was on of Commissioner Sten's stupid ideas. It simply doesn't make any sense to develop affordable housing in a URA, because even if affordable housing is subject to property taxes, it is never going to be the highest and best use, so it will never produce the maximum amount of property tax revenues.

Moreover, the mere presence of affordable housing in the district will further reduce the value of surrounding properties, which further reduces property tax revenues, because rich people simply don't want to share their living environment with poor people, especially poor veterans with "issues." Imagine how you'd feel with 400 mentally-ill former soldiers living a block away. I don't want my wife to ever ride an elevator with a potentially violent veteran with PTSD. Would anyone want that? Imagine the neighborhood exodus that would follow the first incident of violence.

It's easy to criticize decisions like this as lies - which they are - but the real world chugs on, lies or not. As a matter of fact, rich people don't want to subject their families to social experiments like this.

Even if you want to quash such NIMBY-ism, everyone should agree that the best time for affordable housing development is at the end of the URA's lifetime, to maximize property taxes.

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