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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shelter the homeless -- and get rich doing so

You have to wonder how much of this is going on in Portland. If we had to guess, we'd bet on quite a lot. It's sort of like "green" -- compassion for the less fortunate is a convenient political sales tool in a place like Portlandia. It's probably making some real estate sharpies well off.

Comments (11)

Much of this stems from what the planners call urban blight which led to urban renewal.

Back in the 1960 and 70s New York city destroyed about 40,000 units of single room occupancy housing. Nationwide about 1 million units were destroyed. Portland lost about 1800 units with the last being destroyed in recent years.

Housing the poor is big business. The number of consultants, non-profits, government agencies, high-powered hacks who relish influence and control of vast sums of public dollars... these guys, no matter how altruistic and high-minded their goals, have careers and empires to protect and expand using our money. The situation in NY is not typical of how private property owners behave - this is what happens when too much money (government money!) is thrown at a problem with little thought of the consequences. I would not blame the landlord here unless the buildings are uninhabitable. The City of NY did this - the landlord responded to a market demand. The government created the market. Fun stuff.

Do you know this term workforce housing, when that term was coined
and will it become a big new avenue of "public housing?"

Lotsa money at the public teat. That's why our taxes must be raised.

Workforce housing is defined loosely as housing that is affordable to people earning about 80% to 100% of Area Median Income (or less). Programs vary by location, but the goal of workforce housing is to make sure housing is affordable to average workers near their place of employment. In some parts of the country, housing is/was becoming so expensive that teachers, policemen, firemen, and other necessary workers could not afford to live in the communities where they were employed. Some cities had trouble attracting employees without bonuses for housing costs.

Today, the term workforce housing is used to subsidize housing for people at the upper end of the "low income" designation. By any measure, these are people who can well afford to pay for market housing on their own. What proportion of the population do you suppose fits within those peramiters? who is going to pay for all of this?

Perhaps in expensive markets the housing might be small or not as desirable as one would wish, but lack of income is not the problem in housing these people. Local governments - housing authorities and redevelopment agencies -- are responding to the workforce housing "need" in several ways: subsidizing high density TODs near mass transit, land-banking properties for perpetual use by low income agencies, building mixed low-income and market-rate public housing with amenities to attract market-rent customers, and more.

One reason cities might like workforce housing is that it satisfies HUD while bringing in the "cream of the crop" of the low income renters - the ones who don't need to be there. Developers like it because it means more dollars in their pockets, planners like it because it furthers their plans for TODs and social justice. I bet we will be seeing a lot more of this type of housing - the political pressure to do so is there.

As for the folks earning less than 50% of AMI... and the people who struggle to make it on their own but get to pay for someone else to live in Workforce Housing ... well, whoever said government was fair? Social justice is how THEY define it, not you or me. Now, if the government got out of building housing altogether and funded vouchers instead starting with the neediest.... Ah, shucks! Too logical.

Having worked in homeless services for years in Portland where the average line worker with a 4 year degree earns $10-15 per hour, there are agencies that double and triple dip. They get treatment subsidies to provide alcohol an d drug treatment, subsidies to buy buildings to house these folks, many of whom they charge rent to and also receive work retraining dollars to place in min wage no-benefit jobs for said agency. And the top folks in these agencies who never see a client, have 6 figure incomes and the political clout to crush any upstarts in Portland. Once anointed, there is no impeachment. Many clients of these homeless providers have tried to organize around maltreatment and abuse, but are pretty soundly ignored by City Hall which dole out the bucks.

For instance, hotel vouchers are issued to homeless folks who are medically fragile and can't access shelter (often 8-12 week wait at Transition projects). These places are not awesome in terms of cleanliness, safety, etc. And they charge the Emergency Voucher program 400 per week or more.

The Bud Clark Commons cost alot of money to build and the selection process for prospective residents was nebulous at best. The homeless vet housing to be built at SoWhat will cost in excess of $200k per unit. Meanwhile, vets sleep on our streets every night. And trust me when I say that the decision-makers at these tables have much nicer shoes than you or I.


When I was in a desperate situation several years ago and went to Central City Concern for help, I quickly learned to call it Central City Unconcern. They were that unhelpful. They wanted me out of their waiting room. The only thing they could suggest was that I go to one of the shelter buildings at night and stand in line or wait a couple of years and hope that a room opened up in one of the city-owned, roach-infested single occupancy buildings in town (of which there are fewer now). CCC described these places as "rough." And of course there were no provisions for pets. I was told to take my 14-year-old dog to the Humane Society. Fortunately, friends helped and things eventually got better. They asked, and appeared to be disgruntled, when I told them that, no, I didn't abuse drugs or have a mental disorder.

Meanwhile, people live across the street from the apartment for which I pay 80% of my income each month and pay as little as $30/month. There don't seem to be any standards once they are there (and I understand it's the same with other subsidized space, even the Sitka). Once you've qualified and are in, you can stay forever unless you try to move to another apartment. The apartments across the way belong to the Walshes who made a deal with the city so that the low income could continue to live there in exchange for a contract to renovate low income properties in NW. First on the list was guess where. New sidewalks, siding, painting, etc. etc. It went on for months.

And affordable housing for the low-income? Don't make me laugh. "Market Rate" is the only thing that pencils out for developers and the City (as reported by the Oregonian) seems to have a very cock-eyed view of what the average income of a citizen in Portland, let alone the low-income, might be. The percentage they insist a person should pay for housing doesn't even begin to compare with the real percentage of income most folks are paying on the low end of the payroll scale.

I hear the city giving a lot of lip service to affordable housing, but I just don't see much of it actually happening. You have a slightly better chance of getting into it if you are over 62, have kids or have a mental or physical health difficulty or drug abuse problem, but even those things don't necessarily guarantee you'll get a space you can afford in this warped economic climate.

NW Portlander - if vouchers were available (I know there are years-long waits in most counties), would you prefer to select your own housing or live in a publicly-owned facility?

Rebecca-- names! I would like the names of the people with the nice shoes. Maybe WW would do an investigative piece on how our tax dollars are mis-spent in the low-income services racket. I'd also like to see reporting on examples of evidence-based, successful programs that assist low income people to be independent.

NW Portlander gave a good start. . . . Section 8 vouchers are not the primary source of affordable housing. Low income Tax Credit buildings (LITHC), Section 42, and a plethora of housing owned by private non-profits thorugh leveraged by public monies. It is a labyrinth with different income limits depending on the public pot the funds are from. The O did an article about the agency Human Solution trying to house 30 families in 30 days a few years back. Human Solutions found that these non-profit agencies had the most stringent rental criteria that pretty much eliminated the very population the housing was for. . . Human Solutions had more traction with private landlords willing to give 2nd chances than the non-profit stewards of housing bought/maintained by public dollars.

Rebecca and Nolo, last time I heard figures on SoWhat's John Gray Affordable Housing, units were costing about $289,000. And it doesn't include the land cost and all the PDC administrative, etc. costs to produce it.

Work Force Housing is also another way to expand the use of PDC URA money. About four years ago when PDC required most of the then 11 URA's to spend minimum of 33% of TIF dollars for Affordable Housing, they wanted to include Work Force Housing as qualifying under Affordable Housing. This made it easier to meet the 33% requirement. This also appeased many institutions like OHSU, PSU, and large property owners when they developed their lands to have a larger marketing potential.

What's most disturbing about the inclusion of Work Force Housing as Affordable Housing for Portland is that a couple with a child making around $58,000 would qualify. Is that fair to those really needing Affordable Housing?

lw -- to your last question, NO. It's obscene. It's immoral. To all the do-gooders out there who need our tax dollars to do their charitable work, this is an abomination. I have tenants who struggle daily to meet their daily needs. Some don't make it and have to move out, but for the most part, they are surviving and are proud of their independence. They are good, hard-working people.

But the empire-building bureaucrats, the social justice people whose agenda includes mixed income housing which is not about housing at all, and the developers who want to take the money and build only for the upper end.... they should all feel ashamed of themselves. That is, if they understand the concept of shame anymore. They take money from us, including the folks barely making ends meet, and dole it out to those who don't need it at all. To bolster TODs, that feed the light rail and urban density, and uses up TIF money that keeps flowing in without budget or public oversight, and to have access to tax-funded subsidies for their development projects. What good do they really do? None - quite the opposite. Tax-funded programs skew the market and pick winners and losers. People who have win, people in need lose. It is really sick.

The program that Rebecca pointed out - Human Solutions - that works directly with homeless families and guarantees the property losses of private landlords sounds like a good way to get people back on their feet when they have poor rental histories. But there is no place for the indigent who behave badly. Not even public housing has to take people who break their rules or pose a safety risk to others. Not counting the mentally ill, seniors and developmentally and physically disabled who have their own housing, low income housing is not a gamble most landlord want to take. And then you get precious resources squandered on workforce housing. Again, shameful.

As lw pointed out, it doesn't take much to qualify for workforce housing. The median state household income is $49,850 and median household size is 2.46. To qualify for subsidized housing, a 3-person household can make up to $46,000, or about 46% of median. Technically, this makes almost half the state eligible for low-income housing.

Shame: A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.


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