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Regional partners working to address housing needs in the SW Corridor

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.

On October 4, the Portland City Council adopted by resolution the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy. Community and agency partners were on hand to testify in support of the housing strategy. From right to left: Ryan Curren (Project Manager, BPS); Rachael Duke (Executive Director, Community Partners for Affordable Housing); Allan Lazo (Executive Director, Fair Housing Council of Oregon); Pam Phan (Policy & Organizing Director, Community Alliance of Tenants); and Amina Omar (SW Corridor tenant)

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.”

SW Corridor rich with economic and cultural diversity

As we prepare for a new light rail line along Barbur Boulevard, immigrants and vulnerable communities must not be displaced.

Imagine you had traveled thousands of miles to get here, all your belongings with you. You searched for people familiar with your culture and found a community in SW Portland with a place to worship and a grocery store that reminds you of home. You live in an apartment building full of people who speak your language, dress like you and worship the same way. Your children are comfortable in their local school. You scrimp to pay the rent, but you’re willing to live with others to make ends meet.

Then, your apartment building is sold, and you and your neighbors are evicted, your family is uprooted, your children have to say goodbye to friends, and you don’t have enough savings to pay first and last month’s rent in a different, more expensive apartment building down the road ... farther away from your place of worship with friends and community.

Some version of this has been the reality for many of Portland’s communities of refugees and immigrants for generations. But, who knew the risk of displacement could be so high in Southwest Portland?

Housing by the numbers along the SW Corridor

The housing data for SW Portland when compared to the rest of Portland busts the myth that the area is full of mostly affluent white homeowners:

  • There are 12,000 low-income households in the SW Corridor
  • There is a higher percentage of renters in parts of the SW Corridor than Portland citywide, including East Portland.
  • Parts of the SW Corridor is home to a higher percentage of foreign born communities of color than Portland citywide.
  • Per capita income in parts of the corridor is roughly half what it is for the rest of the west side of Portland.

So, there’s a lot of economic disparity and population diversity in the area. Which means that we should ensure we don’t repeat past harms and push out our most vulnerable neighbors as we prepare for a huge investment in transit along the corridor.

Getting ahead of the light rail line

A new light rail line is coming to the last quadrant of the city without one. To avoid the same mistakes made in Albina and Interstate (where vulnerable communities were displaced from their communities), the City must think ahead and be proactive — before market forces push prices up and people out.

We want to get it right — or at least “right-er” — this time.

Buy low(er), secure affordable housing

The most effective way to create affordable housing is to preserve existing apartment buildings that are already affordable to lower-income households. Another way is to purchase developable multi-family zoned land at current (and lower) prices. Currently, in the SW Corridor that’s roughly $50/square foot, which is significantly less than inner SE and Interstate at $75/square foot. This means developers of affordable housing save on cheaper land and build more cost-effective buildings

The SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy includes actions and investments that would get ahead of rising land and property costs. Under the strategy, the cities of Tigard and Portland along with Metro would invest in buildable land before prices spike, ensuring that existing properties would remain affordable. In partnership with TriMet and ODOT, publicly owned land near the future light rail stations will be redeveloped as mixed-use affordable housing.

The strategy also calls for collaboration between the local government and transit agencies (Portland, Tigard, Metro, TriMet and Washington County) and affordable housing providers, renter advocates, community groups and residents to ensure renters and other vulnerable populations have a bigger “toolbox” to protect themselves, their families and their communities from displacement.  

The cities of Tigard and Portland both recently voted to adopt the housing strategy.

Unregulated affordable housing in SW Portland

Some of the best low-cost market rate housing in the city is in SW Portland. There are more than 11,000 unregulated affordable units in the corridor, which are typically older and cheaper apartment buildings. But that makes them easy targets for investors, especially as they consider the economic opportunities that come with new infrastructure investments. 94 percent of recent multi-family building sales in the Southwest Corridor have been these lower cost apartment buildings, which are subsequently “flipped” or upgraded and put back in the rental market at higher rents.

Investments in a new light rail line in the SW Corridor will build out complete communities in the area – places where people have easy and walkable access to stores, parks, schools, transit and other amenities that people need. But they won’t be complete if some of Portland’s most vulnerable populations are pushed out by rising costs of living.

But it requires a strategic and coordinated effort ... (cont.)

Equitable housing strategy for the SW Corridor moves forward

Advisory group and Tigard City Council give thumbs up for the strategy to preserve and create more affordable housing in the corridor.

Over the summer, the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy gathered momentum, with votes from the SW Corridor Equity and Housing Advisory Group and Tigard City Council.

The  Equity and Housing Advisory Group endorsed the recommended strategy at their final advisory group meeting in June. This group of leaders from the nonprofit, finance, philanthropic, government, and housing development sectors brought diverse perspectives on housing and transit policy to help develop and vet recommendations over the past year.

Many members will continue to be involved in ongoing planning for the corridor through Metro’s Southwest Equitable Development Strategy. They will also contribute to some of the early implementation activities of the housing strategy, such as station area planning as well as continued engagement of low-income households and communities of color.

In July, the Tigard City Council acknowledged the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy. Before the vote, members of the Equity and Housing Advisory Group spoke to the Council in support of the strategy.

Steering Committee chooses Locally Preferred Alternative

And in August, the SW Corridor Steering Committee (a Metro-led committee) voted unanimously on a 12-mile alignment for the new light rail line. They chose the center of Barbur Boulevard for most of the Portland portion as the “locally preferred alternative (LPA), citing better, more visible station access as an important factor.

Planning and Sustainability Commission weighs in

After a briefing in the summer, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) crafted two letters: one supporting the housing strategy; the other commenting on the light rail project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

In a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addressing the housing strategy, Katherine Schultz, PSC Chair, stated:

[The SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy] centers the needs of our most vulnerable residents and provides a clear roadmap to stave off displacement and increase fair housing choices for all households. However, our city has a long history of infusing equity language into plans and setting aspirational goals but failing to follow through. This time must be different. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need our political leaders to champion this work to make it real.

In the letter responding to the DEIS to the Federal Transit Administration, Metro and TriMet, Chair Schultz urged transit planners to more carefully analyze the potential for economic displacement of a new light rail line on low-income households and communities of color. The letter also urges the agencies to leverage housing and transportation investments to benefit the most transit-dependent households and those currently burdened by rising housing costs.

City Council work session on SW Corridor Light Rail Project

On September 4, the Portland City Council heard from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, PBOT and the Housing Bureau, who presented information about the proposed new light rail line. Staff described the need for new transportation infrastructure to move the 23,800 daily commuters to and from Portland and Tigard. They also listed the additional benefits of the project, including more reliable travel times, improved access to OHSU and PCC, enhanced stormwater management, bike and pedestrian improvements, as well as catalyzing investments in affordable housing and commercial development.

A striking figure was the amount of land that can be recouped with the removal of Ross Island Bridge on- and off-ramps, which would be replaced with new access ramps away from the neighborhood streets. Of the roughly 3,000 new housing units projected to be built around a new Gibbs Street station, 350 – 400 of them would be built on the land currently occupied by the bridge approach ramps. The Gibbs Street station area would be one of the busiest stations on the new line.

The Barbur Transit Center, near the intersection of Barbur Boulevard, Capitol Highway and the I-5 freeway, would be reconfigured and redeveloped with parking commercial uses, and housing. Transformation of the transit center site could help stimulate investment in the surrounding West Portland Town Center.

Watch the Council work session on the SW Corridor Light Rail line

Next steps

City Council will consider adopting the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy on October 4, after hearing public testimony from 2 – 3 p.m.

Council will also consider adopting the light rail route on October 10, from 2 – 3 p.m., when there will also be opportunity for public testimony. 

SW Corridor communities propose housing solutions for elected officials

Nearly 200 residents gathered to show their support for and concern about housing affordability and stability at Markham Elementary School in SW Portland.

On Mother’s Day this year, a group of renters – led by a group of mostly Somali women living in Southwest Portland and Tigard – hosted an event at Markham Elementary School. It was the last Sunday before Ramadan, and some 200 community members gathered to feast together.

They also came to share a set of community solutions to housing affordability and stability, which they had crafted.

Their audience included elected officials who were invited to the meeting, including Metro Councilor Bob Stacey and City of Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. The gathering was supported by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), an advocacy group for low-income tenant protections in Oregon.

Learning how to organize and advocate for housing justice

This community event was the culmination of a months-long process where tenants organized, learned and collaborated as a single cohort around a common goal of housing justice in the Southwest Corridor. In the process, they learned about housing policy and advocacy techniques they could use to amplify their voices.

The event kicked off with several focus groups of 15-20 people, who discussed community housing solutions developed over the past several months.

Asking questions about tenant protections and other renters’ issues

Then the cohort posed questions to keep elected officials accountable for housing policies as planning for the Southwest Corridor light rail project continues. The questions directed to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and Metro Councilor Bob Stacey addressed topics such as:

• Tenant protections and rights in both Tigard and Portland.
• Housing discrimination by landlords against Somali immigrants.
• Amount of affordable housing investments made ahead of the new MAX light rail construction.
• Purchasing of market rate apartment buildings to preserve affordability and cultural communities.

Others expressed concerns about meeting housing goals and needs in SW. "What will you do to ensure that the affordable housing you plan for actually gets built?" asked one cohort participant.

SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy

To take advantage of opportunities and investments in and around the potential new light rail line in SW Portland and Tigard, the cities of Portland and Tigard are creating the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy. The stretch goal is to build and preserve 2,300 affordable units near future station areas along the entire corridor in the next 10 years. Strategies to provide anti-displacement services and strengthen tenant protections like those solutions presented at the Mother’s Day event are also included in the corridor’s housing strategy.  

New partnerships and funding sources will be required to meet these goals. And events like this one on Mother’s Day are one way to create and strengthen those partnerships.

Learn more about the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy process and read the public discussion draft. 

Equitable housing strategy will create more housing choices and opportunities in the SW Corridor

A draft of the strategy will be shared at a community-led event on May 13; come learn about transit and housing issues.

The Portland Metro area’s transit system is expanding to better connect the SW Corridor with the rest of the region — during a housing crisis. The current crisis and lack of transportation options in the corridor are hindering people’s quality of life in the area. These conditions also create obstacles to achieving the region’s long-range growth plans.

The multibillion-dollar investment in light rail will attract additional investments in housing, providing an opportunity to address this housing crisis and the long-standing racial disparities and underlying income inequality that exacerbate it. As the region prepares to invest in light rail along Highway 99 in SW Portland (or Barbur Blvd) and through downtown Tigard, it's the right time to take advantage of this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A vision of equitable growth must reflect the realities of the current housing crisis while also planting the seeds for a future where everyone can reach their true potential. Where people have the capacity to strengthen their communities and determine their own future and that of their neighborhoods.

Fulfilling the promise of complete communities with housing choices and opportunity

Over the past year, the cities of Portland and Tigard and their community partners have been planning for more housing choices and opportunity in the SW Corridor. The result is a discussion draft of an equitable housing strategy for the SW Corridor. The goals of the strategy are to:

  1. Commit early financial resources to address the near-term housing crisis and long-term needs.
  2. Prevent residential and cultural displacement.
  3. Increase choices for new homes for all household types and incomes.

Read the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy Discussion Draft

Project staff and partners will present this draft to the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission on May 8 at 4 p.m. A proposed draft will then be submitted to Portland and Tigard city councils this summer. 

Community-led event offers chance to learn more about transit and housing issues

As part of the review process, community-based organizations participating in the development of the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy are hosting a community meeting in May for residents of SW Portland and Tigard. Come learn more about transit and housing issues along the corridor so that you can be informed and engaged as decisions are being made. Free food, childcare as well as Somali and Spanish interpretation will be provided.

  • Where: Markham Elementary School
  • When: Sunday May 13, 2018
  • Time: 4 – 7 p.m.
  • More info: Asher@oregoncat.org or 503-460-9702 x129

The SW Corridor Equity and Housing Advisory Group has guided the development of the strategy over the past year. Their final meeting is June 7 from 1– 3 p.m. at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, 1900 SW 4th Ave, 7th floor.

For more project information visit the project website or contact Ryan Curren, 503-823-4574, Ryan.Curren@portlandoregon.gov.