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To build more affordable housing, some of Oregon's oldest public housing will be sold (Column)
It's located among rolling hills north of downtown Oregon City, on a site that's arguably underdeveloped for today's density standards. Nearby homes are listed for sale in the $400,000s. Ann Taylor, 69, said she's lived in Oregon City View Manor for eight ...
Gallery: Oregon City View Manor
By Samantha Swindler
To build more affordable housing, Clackamas County wants to sell some of the state's oldest public housing stock to private developers.
At first glance, this sounds contradictoryBut Chuck Robbins, director of the county Housing Authority, said selling the property is part of a plan to quadruple affordable housing stock over the next few years.
The Housing Authority is asking federal permission to sell roughly 19 acres of the 22-acre Oregon City View Manor, home to 100 low-income houses and duplexes.
"There's really value to that land," Robbins said"If we're able to sell that land, we could take that money and leverage that..to go out and build new units."
Robbins said the county hasn't yet marketed the site, but suspects the land could be worth anywhere from $10 million to $15 million.
"The time is right to be selling property," he said"There's not a lot of large property like that."
Opened in 1962, Oregon City View Manor includes small duplexes and houses, a neighborhood playground, community center and Head Start programIt's located among rolling hills north of downtown Oregon City, on a site that's arguably underdeveloped for today's density standardsNearby homes are listed for sale in the $400,000s.
Ann Taylor, 69, said she's lived in Oregon City View Manor for eight yearsHer yard is lined with trees growing from black plastic tubsShe pointed to a six-foot-tall apricot tree by her front porch.
"I grew this from a seed with my grandson," she said.
Like other residents, she was conflicted when she heard of plans to sell her homeOn one hand, there were problems with neighborhood crime and the units were aging.
On the other, she's frightened by the uncertainty of where she might end up.
"This place is bad, but it's good," she said"You don't know what to do."
Robbins said the county no longer receives enough federal funding to repair its older propertiesOver the years, he said, federal money to the county for capital improvements has been cut in half, to about $800,000 today.
Current residents of Oregon City View Manor would be given Section 8 vouchers to pay the difference between what they can pay and what market-rate units cost, as well as a "relocation consultant" to help them find housingThat's important, since people who qualify for vouchers aren't always able to find placement on their ownClackamas County currently sees between 20 and 25 percent of its vouchers unused, Robbins saidOften, they can't find available units in their price range.
"They promised us Section 8 on steroids," said Joda Foeller, who has lived in the Oregon City complex for more than a decadeFoeller, 58, lives off Social Security and disability incomeShe said she pays $126 a month for her one-bedroom unit.
"I'm so afraid, you know?" she said"Am I going to be in a tent under a bridge like the veterans? They can't even make a place for the homeless, what are they going to do with us?"
But Robbins says selling the property is the best way to secure affordable units for the futureHis goal is to leverage money from the sale, along with Low Income Housing Tax Credits, to create a net increase in affordable housingIf this project goes through, the county will also look at selling the 20-acre Clackamas Heights developmentBuilt in 1941, it's the oldest public housing project in the state.
Clackamas County created Oregon's first Housing Authority in 1938At the time, then U.SHousing Administrator Nathan Straus declared to The Oregonian, "The armies of slum clearance are advancing on 100 fronts."
But by the 1970s, federal housing philosophy began to changeHousing projects were seen as places of concentrated poverty and crime; policymakers decided it would be better to place low-income families in mixed-income neighborhoodsIn 1974, HUD created the Section 8 voucher program to provide rental subsidies for privately-owned, market-rate unitsConstruction of new, government-built public housing projects virtually stopped by the 1980s.
But vouchers haven't offset the disinvestment in public housingThe Western Regional Advocacy Project writes that HUD's budget shrank from $83 billion to just over $18 billion (in 2004 constant dollars) from 1978 to 1983.
Private investment was expected to help fill the shortfallIn 1986, the government created the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to encourage private developers to invest in affordable housingA qualifying housing project is allocated a certain number of tax credits; private investors buy them for a reduction in the taxes they must pay, providing an infusion of cash for the project to go forward.
"The idea behind it was to get private business discipline in the affordable housing world," said Martha McLennen, director of the nonprofit NW Housing Alternatives"The idea was that local jurisdictions, nonprofits, for-profit developers, weren't adequately disciplined about what they were doing, but if you had a lender and an investor looking over your shoulders, you will build a better (project)."
All this makes sense in theory, but it fails if not properly funded - and it hasn't been for decades.
There haven't been enough tax credits to keep pace with the increase in construction costs, and there aren't enough units for everyone with Section 8 vouchers.
It could get even worseThe president's proposed budget would cut some $6 billion from the HUD budget, including $300 million in direct rental assistance programs. And the proposed Republican tax bill would cut corporate taxes from 35 percent to 20 percent, meaning companies will pay fewer taxes and likely purchase fewer tax credits.
You can't eliminate funding for public housing, cut funding for rental assistance, lower the corporate tax rate and expect needed subsidized housing to be built.
All these challenges, of course, are beyond what the county housing authority can controlBut last year, the Oregon Legislature approved inclusionary zoning, which allows government entities to require a certain percentage of private development to include low-income housing.
Robbins twice didn't answer directly if the county would consider inclusionary zoning for development of Oregon City View Manor, saying the idea of requiring low-income housing by private developers was "controversial."
Maybe soBut 79 years ago, Clackamas County was a leader in the radical idea of public housing, and it's time for someone to lead a radical shift again.
-- Samantha Swindler
@editorswindler / 503-294-4031
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