An affordable housing development under construction at Northeast 100th Avenue and Glisan Street in Portland, shown on June 19, 2013. (
The Portland Housing Bureau is preparing to hit the reset button on its 2016 affordable housing bond after voters gave cities more flexibility to spend bond dollars.
Oregon voters passed Measure 102 in November with 57 percent approval. The measure lets local governments put bond money toward privately owned projects. That was previously constitutionally barred, but private development has been the norm for affordable housing development in recent years as public housing fell out of favor.
The amendment was billed as a companion measure to the Metro regional government’s $653 million bond, which Portland-area voters also approved.
But its passage means proceeds from Portland’s bond can similarly be combined with revenue from selling federal low-income housing tax credits or support projects belonging to housing nonprofits, which proponents said could result in more units.
The amendment, in a sense, puts the Housing Bureau on more familiar footing. Lending money for affordable housing developments has historically been one of the bureau’s primary methods of promoting affordable housing in the city.
But a key difference is that the bond money will come with more strings attached than typical offerings. The bureau still must live up to the promises it made to voters: to create 1,300 homes, half of them with two or more bedrooms for families and 600 within reach for households making less than 60 percent of the area median income.
“Those goals aren’t changing,” said Karl Dinkelspiel, the bureau’s affordable housing programs manager. “What’s changing is that we have maybe less control — maybe — because we’ll be asking our partners to meet those goals for us.”
The bureau is still seeking legal opinions from its bond counsel about what the city is allowed under the new legal framework. It’s also seeking the opinions of the city’s Office of Management & Finance, which previously had reservations about lending bond money.
The amendment could mean a reset for a bond-funded housing development at Southeast 30th Avenue and Powell Boulevard, a site the city bought in 2017 using $3.7 million in lodging taxes. It announced later that year it would build a 200- to 300-unit affordable housing development there using bond funds.
The housing bureau had planned to build and operate the apartments itself, but it’s now considering offering the project to an affordable housing developer to complete, Dinkelspiel said. The city has only just begun its development planning for the site, where it had expected to break ground early next year.
Another housing bureau site at 5827 N.E. Prescott St. could also be turned over to an affordable housing developer. The housing bureau has said it plans 50 to 75 units at the site, for which it paid $500,000, but it hadn’t started design work on that project.
Meanwhile, the city said it is moving closer to inking a contract with an independent auditor to keep watch over the housing bond, a condition of the measure passed by voters. The city’s elected auditor is also preparing a report to be released next year.
— Elliot Njus