Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vancouver, B.C. housing approach worth trying

A story in today's New York Times about a Vancouver development shows how mixed public/private housing project might work here in Southwest Portland.

The described project is particularly relevant to our southwest Portland neighborhood of Hillsdale. We have been debating whether the Housing Authority of Portland should proceed with its plans to raze a public housing project, Hillsdale Terrace, and replace it with one twice as large on the same site.

Unfortunately, the site is in a dank, isolated gully. The plans will ensure that the new project will remain "out of sight, out of mind" just as the old one has been for the past 35 years. The project's architects use words like "demanding" and "challenging" to describe it. It is also expensive to develop, driving costs up to between $200,000 and $335,000 per unit depending on how you do the numbers.

The site also has severe access problems that planners and architects have so far not addressed. Also, building on the old site requires the disruptive and expensive relocation of residents during reconstruction.

As chance would have it, just a couple of miles away on the banks of the Willamette River is an opportunity that looks a great deal like the Vancouver project. Near to downtown Portland, high-rise apartment buildings in the new South Waterfront development stand partially filled.

The obvious question is this: Why can't the Housing Authority simply spend the $40.5 million it plans to spend on 120 Hillsdale Terrace units to purchase units in existing, largely vacant South Waterfront buildings?

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