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East Portland tax abatement comes and goes


After years of complaints by community activists, in April the city's Office of Housing removed some of the territory in east Portland eligible for tax abatement for new multi-family housing development.

Then, they added some more.

Under the tax abatement program, new multi-family housing structures within the designated program boundaries, which meet program criteria, are exempt from paying property taxes for ten years. (The owner continues to pay such taxes on the land). In return, the owner is required to meet certain requirements, including keeping at least some of the units at “affordable” levels.

For years, Mid-County activists, including David Douglas School District board member Annette Mattson, have criticized the program. The effect, they say, is to encourage developers to build more low-income housing in an area that already has more of it than it can absorb, that does not have adequate commercial services, parks, pedestrian facilities and, especially, classroom space in its schools. Moreover, they say, relieving developers of their property tax obligations denies school districts the resources to meet these challenges.

The city and Multnomah County recently completed an examination of all tax abatement programs known as the Big Look. As a result, in a January draft, it eliminated some of the territory where such programs had been available, including part of the Lents urban renewal district north of Southeast Steele Street and east of 104th Avenue.

It also reviewed the criteria for inclusion in the program. Developers will be provided some choices from a menu of potential benefits; these include the inclusion of larger units accommodating families with children, making at least some units handicapped accessible, providing amenities such as usable open space, reducing or eliminating off-street parking, especially near transit stations, and locating in areas with high “walkability.” This last, similar to the concept of the 20-minute neighborhood, means the structure is within easy walking distance of stores, schools, parks, libraries, and other common destinations and services.

Based largely on this last criterion, this spring, Housing planners proposed to add territory to the program, virtually all of it in the inner southeast. It included territory close to light-rail stations of the Portland to Milwaukie Light Rail line now under construction. It also included parts of Southeast Belmont and Division streets, and Hawthorne and Powell boulevards.

Local activists protested. In recent years, they said, they have seen too many older single family homes and businesses demolished to make way for inappropriately designed modern high-rises, with studios catering to young singles, and tax abatement would encourage this trend. Further, they argued, why were they being picked on? Didn't other streets have “walkability?”

Housing officials agreed with this last.

A new map published in late April retains the inner southeast additions - but adds more.

Tax abatement could now be offered on Northeast Sandy Boulevard east to 112th Avenue, on Northeast and Southeast 82nd from Northeast Sandy Boulevard to Southeast Foster Road, Northeast and Southeast 122nd Avenue from Broadway to Powell, and Southeast Division Street east to 162nd Ave.

This map shows the areas in Mid-County eligible for the ten-year property tax abatement exemption the city grants on new construction of multi-family housing development.

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