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Smart Affordable Housing Investments by Portland Deliver More Bang for the Buck

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Rendering of an affordable housing apartment building

Smart Affordable Housing Investments by Portland Deliver More Bang for the Buck

Our city is in the midst of a housing affordability crisis, brought on (in part) by decades of massive disinvestment in federal funding for affordable housing, an underinvestment in housing development during the Great Recession, and a rapidly increasing local population that has created a significant supply and demand issue.  As a result, my administration has committed to dramatically increase the number of affordable housing units in Portland. 

In 2017, my first year in office, the City – through the Housing Investment Committee (HIC) – approved more than 1,100 units of affordable housing. In all, the Portland Housing Bureau currently has projects underway that will preserve or create 2,200 homes for low and moderate-income Portlanders. Add to this total, the 1,300 affordable units that will be preserved or created under the Housing Bond, approved by voters in November of 2016, and we have begun to make tangible progress toward our housing goals.

The City recently approved funding for a Pearl District development called Framework, which demonstrates how smart funding decisions can leverage federal and philanthropic resources to produce more affordable housing units. The project will cost nearly $29 million, but the city investment is modest, at $6 million. That’s like paying for a Toyota and getting a Tesla in return. 

Framework was the only project in the River District that was submitted for funding. We approved this funding due to the project’s ability to leverage a variety of funding and because the Pearl has been designated a “Metropolitan Difficult to Develop Neighborhood” by the federal government.  

Here are some important things to know about the Framework project:

  • Every housing unit in the development will be affordable to households making up to 60% of the Area Median Income, or $35,880 a year for a family of two.
  • With a $6 million investment by the City, Portland gets 60 affordable housing units. That’s $100,000 per unit, which is on par with other City investments in affordable housing.
  • The City’s funds will be leveraged to bring in more than three times our investment in additional outside dollars, including but not limited to tax credits and private funds.

The ability to leverage our investment is essential:

  • Framework will be the tallest high-rise structure in the U.S. made from wood, built with a new timber technology called Cross Laminated Timber (CLT). This new technology has the promise of allowing us to build taller and faster in way that is both seismically safe and cost effective. Further, CLT production can provide a much-needed boost to the rural Oregon economy without compromising our environmental values. The majority of the cost premium of using CLT will be funded by philanthropic sources. 
  • The housing units are intended to be affordable for 99 years, made possible in part by an up-front investment in quality materials and sustainable technology. Less maintenance and repair over time translates into lower rents throughout the life of the building.
  • The Framework project will be developed in one of the Central City’s most vibrant neighborhoods, close to a wealth of transit options and good employment opportunities.

Obama administration Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said about Framework, “By embracing the benefits of wood as a sustainable building material, these demonstration projects [Framework and 475 West 18th in NY] have the ability to help change the face of our communities, mitigate climate change and support jobs in rural America.”

The innovations made possible by this development are why Framework has been recognized with the Portland Design Commission Excellence Award, the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize, an Honorable Mention at the Architects Newspaper Best of Design Awards (Research Category), and has attracted funding from organizations like Home Forward, Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Oregon Community Foundation.

As we work to solve our housing emergency, we must continue to be vigilant about the effective use of public dollars dedicated to this effort. Smart investments, made transparently, toward projects that meet their budgets and timelines, will help us deliver more affordable housing while maintaining the trust of the public.