It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Portland Housing Bureau

The past two years at the Portland Housing Bureau have seen some enormous changes, ranging from the merger of the Bureau and Housing and Community Development and portions of the Portland Development Commission, to a new strategic plan, to working to change the way the bureau communicates with the broader public.

The underlining elephant in the room is the way the housing bureau generates revenue through a complex tax system that is showing a steep decline in its Five-Year Financial Forecast.

The Portland Housing Bureau recently submitted its budget request for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2011. While the bureau has consolidated its’ resources to deliver on a number of big projects in the past two years, including the development of veterans housing in South Waterfront, the building of the new Resource Access Center, and myriad of other smaller projects — the bureau is projecting a revenue decline this year of about $16 million, mostly due to the decline in tax increment funds available due to the slowing of the economy.

Also missing in this year’s budget are one-time stimulus funds provided by the federal government, and a concern that homeless dollars in the form of important block grants will be cut from seven to 10 percent in the upcoming federal budget.

The decline in revenue has forced the bureau to quietly cut its staff.  Come this July, the bureau will have laid off 17 employees over the past two years.

“We’ll be doing less new production of housing in the coming years,” says Van Vliet. “The good news is that the city general fund is in fairly good shape. We won’t be seeing a big drop in specific homeless services. We’re optimistic on this front.”

Earlier this week, the bureau announced $9.8 million that is going towards affordable rental housing citywide, with a special focus on East Portland. The money is allocated to six projects, including $5.9 million for 120 units in the Gateway neighborhood for low-wage workers and seniors on fixed incomes, and a $2.1 million project to acquire and repair a 19-unit apartment building in the Foster-Powell neighborhood. The rest of the money is going to support building or repairing existing affordable housing units throughout east Portland.

Van Vliet discussed with SR the complexity of the times, saying the latest investment in affordable housing comes at a time when we’re in a bubble year before the revenue actually declines.

The bureau recently released the 2009-10 Community Report for the Portland Housing Bureau. The report focuses on an overview of developing and preserving affordable housing, ending homelessness, supporting home ownership, and preventing foreclosure over the past year. What it does not do is give any context to the challenges the city faces now in any of these categories.

“It’s taken us some time to get everything in order. We’ve consolidated the bureaus, created a strategic plan that will guide us in the future, and brought our staffing levels and costs down,” says Van Vliet. “Now it’s time to begin to think about resource development and how we’re going to tackle the problem.”

Note: Street Roots receives $30,000 from the Portland Housing Bureau for the publishing of the Rose City Resource.

By Israel Bayer

3 responses to “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Portland Housing Bureau

  1. great article Iz,
    I was disappointed, it seems only about 26 of the units listed will be 0-30%, the rest 50% plus. I may be wrong, but last I recall, Portland’s 0-30% stock has gone downhill every year since sometime in the 80s.

  2. Pingback: Street Roots joins housing group on a two-day peer learning trip to Seattle | For those who can’t afford free speech

  3. Pingback: Seattle housing peer learning trip: Day one | For those who can’t afford free speech

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