Regional partners working to address housing needs in the SW Corridor

News Article
The housing crisis requires partnerships and collaborative approaches.

As the low-income households continue to bear the burden of the housing crisis throughout the entire region, there is an acute need for affordable housing in the SW Corridor. Over the next 10 years, an estimated 4,000 affordable homes would need to be built or preserved in the SW Corridor to meet the full need for existing and future low-income households moving in. Thousands more homes are also needed to meet the needs of future higher income households projected to move to the area as well.

The cities of Tigard and Portland are committed to meeting at least 20 percent of this affordable housing need over the next 10 years. If new funding resources are created, then more than 50 percent of that need could be met. A combination of new tenant protections and anti-displacement services are also recommended to stabilize vulnerable communities as they try to find and keep housing in an escalating rental market.

The Southwest Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy was initiated to ensure that vulnerable communities are not displaced as a new light rail line is built in the corridor and new housing is created for all households. The force behind the strategy is the Southwest Corridor Equity and Housing Advisory Group. Charged with focusing the strategy on the needs of low-income households and communities of color, the advisory group comprises representatives from government, nonprofit, private, finance, development and philanthropy sectors.

Tough questions

Over the past year the advisory group partners vetted, deliberated and recommended goals for the strategy. In addition, through a Southwest Corridor Community Grants Program, some organizations on the advisory group (like Community Alliance of Tenants and Muslim Educational Trust) led grassroots organizing in the corridor, which empowered lower income community members and elevated important issues around tenant rights and protections.

The advisory group wrestled with tough questions before finalizing the strategy, including:

  • How do we address the near-term housing crisis while planning to meet the long-term need for affordable housing?
  • How do we balance the demands on today’s existing funding with our aspirations to meet more of the housing need?
  • Knowing what we know today, are these housing strategies enough to prevent displacement related to the light rail investment?

The big questions have no easy answers. But there are hopeful signs for the future, as partners step up to do what they can for the region.

Partners all in

“TriMet is part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis,” said Dave Unsworth, capital projects manager for TriMet, which is prioritizing their land for affordable housing development near future light rail stations. “We believe that an agreement between the cities of Portland, Tigard, Washington County, Metro and TriMet will help us address the demand for affordable housing in conjunction with the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Project.”

In addition, there is a commitment to an ongoing collaborative structure for community engagement and stewardship of the housing strategy. Members of the advisory group will continue to meet through Metro’s Southwest Equitable Development Strategy, where they can influence long-term strategies that improve housing options as well as support small business and workforce development.

Housing nonprofits are also committed to an equitable future for the corridor. Home Forward and Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) are looking to buy existing apartment buildings and land for affordable housing development in the near term. Proud Ground is also looking to expand its community land trust model to the corridor.

Strength in numbers

As time gets closer to start implementing the housing strategy, the strengths of each project partner continue to show what can be possible when diverse organizations with various resources and ideas come together around a shared vision for housing and transportation. By planning to meet the housing needs of the most underserved of the region, we can increase housing choices and lift the entire community.

But the question of how best to prevent displacement has been the toughest to answer. With the lessons learned from the Albina Community Plan and Yellow Line investment in NE Portland, where thousands of African-American households were displaced, many in SW have asked, “Will this time be any different?”

Affordable housing provider CPAH is putting some skin in the game by buying land throughout the corridor. “We look forward to meeting some of the affordable housing needs as the community changes and grows so that everyone can benefit from the future investment [in light rail],” said Executive Director Rachael Duke. “This is particularly important for those who are at risk of being pushed out.”

As light rail goes, so does the housing strategy

As the SW Corridor Light Rail project continues to make headway on a parallel timeline, the housing strategy is getting the nod. The advisory group officially endorsed it in June, and the Tigard City Council and Portland City Council adopted the strategy in July and October, respectively. Portland City Council will discuss and vote on the alignment — or locally preferred alternative (LPA) — for the light rail line on November 1 from 2 - 4 p.m.

According to the City of Tigard’s director of economic development, Kenny Asher, “Affordable housing near essential services like transit, shopping and employment centers has been a priority for the City of Tigard. Our support for light rail has been predicated on the inclusion of housing opportunities for those traditionally underserved by transit. By incorporating transit-oriented design projects along the Southwest Corridor, low-income communities that have been traditionally underserved by transit, can afford to live closer to essential services and opportunities.”