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One Fight Left for the Poor

PDC vs. The City, Again

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It's taken months—or years, depending on one's perspective—for the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to come around to the city's goals of providing housing for people in poverty. In the past several weeks, the two sides have come together on a solution to provide affordable housing—but there's still one fight left.

Wednesday, October 11, PDC staff presented its board of commissioners with recommendations on how to implement city council's proposed policy that 30 percent of all urban renewal dollars be spent on affordable housing projects. The report showed a great deal of compromise—it was willing to include expiring districts, for instance.

But one of the staffers' recommendations hit a sour note with the commissioners. The report aligned with the city's goal that every one of PDC's renewal districts meet the 30 percent requirement—but some board commissioners are insisting that the 30 percent be averaged over the entire city, meaning some districts might get more than 30 percent, but some would get fewer.

The key word for the agency is "flexibility"—that is, the flexibility to limit its spending on housing in certain areas. A majority of city council, however, has already hinted that the so-called "flexibility" is unacceptable, and that PDC has had flexibility for years that it's used to neglect affordable housing in favor of higher profit projects.

Sources have said the PDC vs. city council fight has largely been waged in closed meetings, with Mayor Tom Potter advocating for the agency, and Commissioner Erik Sten—a staunch affordable housing advocate—fighting to maintain strict guidelines.

The battle is expected to be made public Wednesday, October 18. The PDC will present its final recommendations, and city council will hear testimony from housing advocates on the proposed policy. (See portlandmercury.com/blogtown for updates.)

With the city council focusing on affordable housing projects—many of which cost an enormous amount of money for little return—an important question has emerged: How can the city pay prevailing wages to construction workers on the projects, and still afford to provide as much housing as possible?

That's a question that unions and affordable housing advocates have been hashing out for a year. On Monday, October 16, they announced their compromise—on large projects, projects that are larger than five stories, the city will pay prevailing wages. On smaller projects, a more modest living wage will be paid.

That's at least one fight for the poor that won't stretch on for years.

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