Housing Update: Deeper Subsidy for Deeper Affordability

Housing Update: Deeper Subsidy for Deeper Affordability

Housing Update: Deeper Subsidy for Deeper Affordability

There is a lot of news below. The bad is only so bad, but the good is very good, so read on!

The Bad News: We need consistent priorities!

PCRI and St. Philip the Deacon submitted a proposal for Metro Bond Funds, via the city’s Spring 2021 Metro Bond Opportunity Solicitation. This source of funding originated with the Metro regional affordable housing bond of 2018. The goal of the bond is to increase the tri-county housing inventory by 3,900 housing units, through the issuance of $653 million in bonds. To date, Metro Bond Funds for affordable housing of almost $176 million have already been committed for the tri-county area. The City of Portland’s share, $211 million, is administered by the Portland Housing Bureau.

As part of the application and eligibility process, PCRI and St. Philip the Deacon participated in a three-stage review. Our project made it to the second stage, but was not moved to the third stage.

We understood that our M-BOS application was not an ideal fit due to changed priorities in the solicitation from previous years. A significant hazard embedded in the way we as a nation and region fund affordable housing is this: priorities change from year to year often based on newly elected officials. This year, Commissioner Dan Ryan, who is the head of the Portland Housing Bureau, introduced the laudable priority of funding housing which provided on-site mental health services for residents. This arises from Commissioner Ryan’s own family experience: his brother died due to the lack of such services and support. We NEED to build in such services and support in housing development.

However, new priorities should not displace unmet previous priorities. We still need permanent supportive housing for people of color in N/NE Portland. Further, changing priorities and proposal requirements in the middle of the already long and complicated process of applying for affordable housing funding causes expensive and time-consuming changes. Prioritizing new, while important, directions undermines the long-term work of small institutions that want to build housing now and delays homes for more and more Oregonians. Prioritizing new directions without also supporting earlier, equally important, priorities simply means that we never reach our goals. We just change them, and the result is that we fail to build sufficient housing.

If the City of Portland and the State of Oregon want to provide Housing First, and is serious about supporting culturally-specific organizations (such as PCRI) and wants to work alongside small organizations (like St. Philip), it must stop setting up barriers, however well-intentioned, that make affordable housing development prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. Doing so results in effectively supporting non-local, non-culturally-specific development organizations who do not share the values or have a relationship with the communities in which they build.

The Good News: Future housing for people of color

The same day we learned that we did not receive the M-BOS funding, we also learned that the recommendations for specific changes we requested of the Oregon Housing Stability Council were accepted in their entirety. These changes will positively affect the ability of culturally-specific organizations to apply for and receive affordable housing funds for years to come.

On Friday morning, October 1st, Director Kymberly Horner and Charles Funches of PCRI, and Mother Alcena Boozer and The Rev’d Maria McDowell of St. Philip presented public testimony to the Oregon Housing Stability Council. This Council sets criteria for granting funding awards for a variety of housing needs, including the funding for The Alcena and Kafoury Court. PCRI was invited to offer testimony specifically after our LIFT application was rejected because we needed deeper subsidies than non-culturally specific organizations need. All 2021 LIFT awards went to white-led development organizations, exposing the reality that the point system used to grant awards benefits organizations that are not culturally-specific, and who may not adequately serve people of color.  

Organizations such as PCRI face the following problems:

  • Affordable Housing is not affordable for people of color as their income is even lower than national averages of Median Family Incomes, a number which includes impoverished white families. This means that what a poor white family can afford cannot be afforded by a peer family of color.
  • Wealth building is not actually happening — except for developers who are not a part of culturally-specific communities.
  • There is no clear accountability and follow-up to discover if non-culturally specific groups who get funding points for saying they will provide culturally responsive services actually provide such services. Meanwhile, culturally-specific groups with fewer resources are not funded.

PCRI’s Recommendations to OHSC:

  • Provide set-aside funding for culturally-specific housing providers
  • Provide deeper subsidy for deeper affordability to encourage building housing that is truly affordable for people of color.
  • Track and report on Minority-owned, Woman-owned, or Emerging Small Business (MWESB) goals and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) agreements
  • Provide capacity building support for smaller organizations such as the faith-communities that are a part of the Leaven Community Land & Housing Coalition.

The good news is that the OHSC was immediately responsive to our requests. The OHSC took our recommendations on tracking and reporting MWESB goals and DEI agreements, and applied them in decisions made the same day. They further directed staff to keep white developers accountable to DEI. 

The AMAZING news is that on Friday, October 8th, OHCS released their Affordable Housing Development Funding Calendar & Frameworks through 2023. The framework adopts all of our recommendations regarding Equity and Racial Justice Considerations and Transparency. In the PDF linked above, see slides 4-9.

By offering solid and concrete recommendations, and telling the real-life stories of the kin and elders of St. Philip, we successfully encouraged OHSC to step into its existing equity commitment and make meaningful changes to its practices. PCRI, with over 35 years of experience in providing housing to black families, is uniquely able to give specific recommendations that derive from the experience and wisdom of service providers of color. 

Whether PCRI and St. Philip is able to fund our specific project or not, we have affected a significant change in how the State of Oregon practically awards funding for culturally-specific housing developments, and the transparency and accountability required of all its development partners. 

Next Steps: Apply, Apply, Apply (and buy 130 NE Knott!)

While we did not get funding this year, the OHCS framework changes positively affect two significant sources of funding: the 9% LIHTC and LIFT funding. The NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability) for both will be released in January, likely due by March, with award announcements in the summer. So, we will continue to apply.PCRI is confident enough in our shared project that money is in escrow to purchase 130 NE Knott St. The house will likely be purchased in December by Alcena Community Investment, LLC, a subsidiary of PCRI created to allow PCRI to maintain control of the property and limit liability. A significant portion of the final purchase price is being funded by a loan from the Land Acquisition Program (LAP) for Urban Ownership, and the gap is being filled by PCRI themselves. PCRI is committed to building The Alcena and Kafoury Court, and views the ownership of 130 NE Knott as aligned with its overall mission, and our shared vision for stewarding our land.