Friday, October 08, 2010

Razing and rebuilding Hillsdale Terrace is still a bad idea

Hillsdale Terrace is the "X" and "O" at the bottom center of this aerial photo.
The Mittleman Jewish Community Center is at the top right quadrant.

Last year I opposed the Housing Authority of Portland’s application to receive federal money ($16.5 million) deemed essential to razing and replacing the deteriorating, 40-year-old Hillsdale Terrace project here in our community.

If you don’t know where the Terrace is, it’s because its 60 units are hidden away in a moldering, soggy, isolated gulch.

Now HAP is reapplying — this time for more federal money ($18 million).

The project is still a bad idea. The site remains isolated, residents would have to be displaced for up to three years and demolition and extensive site work drive up costs.

As I urged the first time around, HAP should pursue different approaches. Both involve getting rid of Hillsdale Terrace but keeping its residents in Hillsdale and Multnomah.

One idea would be to sell the Hillsdale Terrace project to a developer and buy a new, community-connected, easily build-able site. If HOPE VI funds can't be used to build on a new site, as HAP maintains, find different funding and scale back the project, which currently would double the current number of units from 60 to 122.

(UPDATE: I e-mailed HUD, which distributes the funds, about HAP's claim that HOPE VI can only be used to develop existing sites, not new ones. Late Friday, HUD spokesperson Donna White wrote back to say the HOPE VI money can be, and has been, used for off-site developments. I've asked HAP to respond. Stay tuned.)

The other would be to seek "Section 8" federal funding that would set folks up in local housing with rent subsidies. (The argument that property owners won’t rent to the poor seems lame in light of HAP’s relying on local rentals for residents displaced during the proposed reconstruction of Hillsdale Terrace.)

Math alert: I’m about to share some key numbers. Two points are worth noting.

We are talking about a total figure of $45.1 million poured into an grossly deficient site. How might that money, or even half that amount, be better spent to help the poor in our neighborhood?

2) HAP may quibble with my math, but I’ve tried my best to work with the agency’s numbers. If they disagree with my calculations, I welcome their critique.

HAP’s cost figures show that site-related expenses (demolition, relocation, site work) come to $7.27 million. Tack on to that $2.1 million in “HOPE VI administration costs” and, say, another $3 million for what HAP might get by selling the 6-acre Hillsdale Terrace property and you get more than $12 million in costs associated with the site alone.

That’s before you figure in the actual cost of “hard” construction.

By the way, I have left out $3.1 million, the HAP budgeted amounts for support services for children and residents (who are generally undereducated, unskilled and steeped in poverty). That money will be needed whatever happens.

Now add in the actual cost of construction, $32.7 million, to the $12 million mentioned above.

Divide by 122 units and you come up with $370,000 per unit.

In this market, you could buy a handsome house (including land) or a South Waterfront condo for that amount. To say nothing of how much rent that would subsidize through the Section 8 program.

And remember, the figure still allows for $3.1 in social services for a population in desperate need for help.

A final point: the cost per unit figure doesn’t factor in what HAP plans to spend to buy and demolish three duplexes on SW 26th — just so motorists on Capitol Highway can get a fleeting glimpse of a project that should never have been built in the first place.

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