Fish, Cogen, and the bunker boys
With the Sam Rand Twins leaving Portland City Hall in six months, the real estate developers must have new puppets to take their places. Obviously, Char-Lie Hales is the prime candidate for this role, having done nothing but serve apartment weasels for the last two decades or more. All you need to see to know where Char-Lie is coming from is this election night photo with Homer Williams playing the ventriloquist on the stage behind him.
But other players are kissing up as well. This week Multnomah County chair Jeff "Farquaad" Cogen and city commissioner Nick "Jelly" Fish sent around a press release about how they're going to be a lot smarter about handing out tax exemptions to the builders of junk infill apartments:
In Portland and throughout Multnomah County, we believe that people of all income levels deserve a fair shot. That is especially true when it comes to housing. Everyone should have a safe and decent place to call home, close to where they work, in a neighborhood that provides opportunities for a good quality of life.
Unusually low vacancy rates in Portland’s rental market have driven up the cost of apartments in the urban core. It's getting so that that young families of modest incomes and even young professionals starting out are finding it harder to afford life in the inner city.
"We want a complete community," said Portland Housing Commissioner Nick Fish. "We want all kinds of working people to be able to afford homes in neighborhoods citywide – we don’t want to become like San Francisco, a city of rich and poor."
This afternoon, the Portland City Council will consider updates to the city’s Limited Tax Exemption program. The program grants 10-year property tax exemptions to developers who reserve at least 20% of the units in their multi-unit projects for people earning 60% of median family income, $30,660 for a single person or $43,800 for a family of four, or lower; or for new single-family homes sold at an affordable price to modest-income homebuyers. The exemption applies to taxes on the improvements (usually the building) – the land is still taxed.
"The proposed updates will balance the program’s cost in foregone revenue with the value to taxpayers of affordable housing and other public benefits that the program encourages" said Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen. "The updates align the LTE program with our community’s goals for housing and improve the program’s efficiency, accountability and transparency."
The multi-unit projects would generally be located in dense areas downtown, along transit corridors and main streets citywide, and in regional centers. Tax exemptions are also available for new construction of for-sale homes in distressed areas and for multi-family affordable housing projects owned by non-profits. These ensure that people can afford a home in their current neighborhood while helping to improve the community and the quality of life for its residents.
These tools increase affordable housing stock and work against the cycle of low- and modest-income families being priced out as property values rise. This small but effective program counters prevailing market forces without drawing on deep, up-front government subsidies because it leverages the activity of private developers who are building in response to the market. New apartments are being built all over town, including along major transit lines in Southeast and Northeast Portland.
"Why not capitalize on that," said Chair Cogen. "This is an opportunity for us to get new affordable homes in projects that would be built anyway."
The city and county have been working together for months with people in the non-profit housing community, developers and other stakeholders to iron out the specifics of the new program.
Executive summary: We're using your tax dollars to make sure that the bunkers that are going up in your neighborhood are as cheap and cheesy as they can possibly be. It's for "equity." And for the children.
It's also curious that Jelly says "We want all kinds of working people to be able to afford homes in neighborhoods citywide," but the handouts for the shlock are concentrated "in dense areas downtown, along transit corridors and main streets citywide, and in regional centers." Those winding streets in the West Hills don't seem to be part of the program. Just an accident, no doubt.