Friday, August 14, 2009

Good housing intentions go bad in Hillsdale

The Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) is throwing itself headlong into a public housing project that's a good idea gone bad.

The good idea is creating new affordable and public housing in Hillsdale. The agency is applying to the feds to get about half the money needed to build it.

Here’s where the idea goes of the tracks. The agency wants the public housing, a "new" Hillsdale Terrace, in the same, obscure, hard-to-access gully where the old, smaller and decaying Hillsdale Terrace is now.

Why there? The project manager says the site is so bad that the Housing Authority can’t sell it.

I've suggested in The Hillsdale News that the highest and best use for the old real estate might be as a city-owned dog run. A swap with the parks bureau, which has assigned Hillsdale Park to the dogs, offers an obvious solution. Build the new housing in the park, which is behind Robert Gray Middle School, and direct the dogs and their owners to a new "Hillsdale Gulch" park.

Right now, a new complex on the existing site is estimated to cost $44.5 million for roughly 120 apartment units. I assume the cost estimate includes housing the present tenants of 63 units elsewhere for 18 months while their old, moldy, crumbling home is being demolished and replaced by one nearly twice as large.

If my calculator doesn't fail me, this approach will cost $367,000 per new apartment unit.

In this depressed real estate market, you could buy a pretty attractive house and lot for that.

Meanwhile the new high-rise South Waterfront properties have plenty of vacant apartments begging for buyers at that price.

Alas, at this point, a November 17 federal grant application deadline and bureaucratic myopia are driving the project.

Still, there's still a chance to put forward reasonable and more affordable alternatives.

HAP is holding a meeting on the project next Tuesday, August 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Hillsdale Terrace community room. That’s at 6775 SW 26th. The entrance is across the street from the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.

Once you are down in the gully, you will see why the place has great promise as a dog run. The Hillsdale Terrace complex is to the right.

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Anonymous Rick Nitti said...

Rick, I wanted to take some time to think about your concern regarding the proposed Hillsdale Terrace redevelopment. At first glance, it made me think. Wow! This is too expensive and I recoiled. Plus, if a land swap was possible to acquire the dog park by Robert Gray, it would be attractive.

Now that I have thought about it, I am strongly supporting the HAP's plan to redevelop the Hillsdale Terrace and this is why.

1. In the land swap proposal, Terrace residents will continue to be isolated and will lose the easy access they have right now to pedestrian sidewalks and public transportation while possibly gaining greater resistance from the community.

2. The cost of the redevelopment is high because it also included amenities like an early childhood education center and program space for residents.

3. The time it would take to negotiate a land swap would prevent the Housing Authority from applying for the millions of dollars it could recieve from a Hope VI grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

4. I stongly believe it is important to have public housing in the heart of SW Portland. Public Housing needs to be distributed throughout the region and should not be segregated into ghettos. Hillsdale Terrace , while maybe not the best site is probably the only site for this to happen.

5. Finally, the Hilldale Terrace location allows poor children to attend good schools; allows parents to raise their children in an environment not over run by gangs and crime; provides easy access to emergency food, utility assistance, early childhood education, senior and youth services provided by Neighborhood House and health care provided by the Southwest Community Health Center, Fanno Creek and OHSU; access to grocery shopping at the Hillsdale Farmers Market, Food Front, Safeway and Fred Meyer. Because of this, I believe it is work the investment. The tax payoff will be returned by Terrace kids growing into successful taxpaying adults and parents able to go work knowing their children are in a safe and healhy environment.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

I wrote my friend Rick Nitti after he posted here, but should have shared my response with you.

Note: Rick is the executive director of Neighborhood House, which has a contract to provide services to Hillsdale Terrace.

Here is a short version of my response to Rick.

1. The alternative site I proposed is a half block to bus lines. It is next to a school (Robert Gray MS) which also offers an after-school SUN program. Sidewalk construction should be part of the development. Certainly HAP can find a few grand for sidewalks in a $43 million project.

2. HAP hasn't broken out the per/unit cost, but even if it were $250,000 (not the $370,000 that results from simple division), it would be excessive. Particularly in this market.

3. Time spent to locate this project in the best place is time well spent. Money sent to build this in the right place is money well spent.

4. I agree that the project should be in Hillsdale (actually, it's technically in Multnomah), but I disagree that the current site is the only site. Rick says it's "probably" the only site. I want to know for certain that it's the only site. HAP hasn't done its homework and is papering over its neglect with millions in public money.

5. Rick's points are equally true of alternative sites in Hillsdale. In fact, other sites that aren't isolated, as the current and designated one is, do a much better job of addressing Rick's concerns — and likely for far less money.

In short, by taking the easy way out, HAP is ignoring the expressed and acknowledged needs of the very population it is supposed to be helping.

4:53 PM  

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