New communal townhomes offer some affordable housing in Portland

The housing market has slowed a little in Portland. The real estate website Zillow even says it’s a buyer’s market right now. But prices are still high.

According to Zillow, the median home price is just under $460,000.

One developer, Eli Spevak of Orangle Splot, LLC, is using some city incentives to get a few more affordable homes on the market. It comes as Portland city planners are trying to re-zone areas to fit more people into established neighborhoods. Instead of high-rise apartments, or McMansions, the new zoning will allow for more duplexes, triplexes or multi-family structures.

Spevak’s latest project is the Mason Street Townhomes on Northeast Cully Blvd. and Northeast Mason St. Each walk-up townhome will go up for sale at the end of May.

They still have to do landscaping and finishing touches, but it’s almost there. And yes, it has five off-street parking spaces, along with about five on-street spots directly in front.

This is Spevak’s sixth intentional, communal-living development. The homes have shared outdoor space and a building with a community kitchen and large living room for events, even guest quarters.

Two single-family houses used to be on this property. Spevak bought both and combined the land, so now 14 families will live on it. Three of those 14 units are permanent affordable housing. They will stay permanent through a re-sale restriction written into the deed of the home, with a formula to cap the future sales price and future buyers must be income-qualified.

That means only families making 80 percent of the median family income can apply through Proud Ground to buy it. That’s $52,100 a year for a household of two earners, $58,600 with three earners.

Asking price for those 3-bedroom, affordable townhomes is $219,000. The rest of the units will be market rate priced, $300,000 to $500,000.

"That way I know there’ll be some legacy, so if prices go through the roof again, some homes will stay affordable," Spevak said.

A lot of developers in Portland are hated; seen as bulldozing perfectly good or historic homes, or building ugly, overpriced ones.

"I’m not immune to that criticism either. I also get blowback. It’s understandable, neighborhoods are places where people live and change is threatening. What I try and do though, is build neighborhood-friendly projects that, once they’re completed, it’s the people that count," Spevak said.

Inside the three and four bedroom townhouses, the finishes are custom. Wool carpet upstairs, quartz countertops, living-edge timber windowsills cut from a fir tree once on the property, and air conditioning.

The space is ample for a small family, or perfect for empty nesters. It’s a niche Portland hasn’t provided much of, called the "missing middle." Attached, smaller housing.

Spevak is trying to put heart and thought into his designs. Bedrooms are all upstairs and facing the back for privacy. Garden boxes out front of each unit. Kitchens face the common area so parents can watch their kids and talk to neighbors.

"I wanted to create a community where there’s some shared common spaces so people don’t get isolated and lonely in their homes but can meet and hang out with their neighbors," he said.

In 2016, KGW profiled another of the six communal neighborhoods Spevak has built in Portland, not far away, called Cully Grove. It’s where Spevak and his family live themselves.

People share the garden, community dinners in the clubhouse, even chores with the chickens on the property, all while owning their own unit.

Cully Grove doesn’t have permanently affordable units, as it was built during the recession. But Spevak says he’s since recognized the need, and now includes affordable housing units into all his developments.

"We’ve got a housing supply problem, we don’t have enough housing for people to live in. So people are playing musical chairs. Those who don’t get a chair, end up far away from downtown or on the streets."

He has another community development breaking ground this summer across the street from Cully Grove, called Cully Garden. There will be 23 townhomes, with three affordable units.

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