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Oversight Committee Praises, Challenges Portland Housing Approaches

A Portland housing committee weighed in Wednesday on cutting-edge efforts to keep gentrifying parts of the city affordable.

Construction crews work on a new home in North Portland's Boise neighborhood.

Construction crews work on a new home in North Portland's Boise neighborhood.

Rob Manning

The North/Northeast Oversight Committee praised the city for working to provide housing for people who were forced out of the neighborhood.

Committee chair Bishop Steven Holt said the effort was “one of the most significant actions” the city has taken.

“To say that what has transpired historically matters, and we want to do something different about it, going forward” is important, Holt said.

But commissioner Amanda Fritz asked committee member Lisa Bates how the ranking of applicants would work for the program, given limited funding.

“What’s the proposal for dealing with — if you have 100 applications, and they all have the same rank, and you can only fund 50 of them?” Fritz asked.

“Well, I think that will be deeply challenging,” Bates acknowledged to Fritz.

Bates, in turn, challenged the city to buy land before it’s bought by developers and made unaffordable. The North/Northeast Housing Strategy includes $3 million of the overall $20 million fund for an approach called “land banking.” The Housing Strategy was adopted in January 2015 and identifies land acquisition as something the city should “start immediately.”

Bates told city councilors it doesn’t look like there’s much happening on that front.

“It’s really critical to take land off the market now, so it can be used in combination with other subsidies to develop affordable housing,” Bates said.

Commissioner Nick Fish agreed the city should be “opportunistic,” but not overspend.

Fish said there are potential pitfalls in land banking. The city could wind up buying land without a way to develop it, or city officials might find land sellers asking higher prices once they know there might be a government buyer.

Officials with the city’s housing bureau said they’re working with nonprofit organizations to work around the pitfalls Fish identified.

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