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Gateway urban renewal budget short


Once again, the Gateway Urban Renewal District is short on funds. Once again, part of the reason is that someone outside the district wants the money for a separate agenda.

This year, the fly in the ointment is called the set-aside. This is a stipulated part of each of the budgets of the city’s urban renewal districts that must be assigned to affordable housing, as mandated by housing advocates and the Portland City Council led by Commissioner Erik Sten. In the case of Gateway and several other districts, the set-aside is 30 percent of the total budget.

At last month’s meeting of Gateway’s Program Advisory Committee, Portland Development Commission staff presented a proposed district budget. The total for fiscal year 2007-08 would be slightly over $7 million, of which $1.9 million is still unbudgeted. Of this, $800,000 would go to PDC’s popular business assistance programs. Another $650,000 would go to development, including property acquisition. Infrastructure improvements would get a whopping $5,000. More than a million dollars would go to personnel services and administration. The biggest category would be the set-aside: $2,225,000.

PAC member Frieda Christopher complained, “The focus has shifted from economic development to housing. We’ve already spent a lot on things that weren’t our priorities. Someone’s always taking a big chunk, leaving little for us to spend.”

As part of Gateway’s first urban renewal budget, at the behest of Commissioner Dan Saltzman, nearly $1 million was used to help pay for the Children’s Receiving Center, which had no obvious connection to the district’s goals and actually worked against them to some extent by removing land from the tax rolls. (“Our arms were twisted to contribute to that,” Christopher recalled last month.) This, and the acquisition of part of the Gateway Transit Center as a site for the Oregon Clinic, has been the only land acquisition PDC has made in the district. Gateway was also assessed more than $3 million to help pay for the new Clackamas County light rail connection.

“Our budget seems to be driven by downtown,” Alesia Reese of Woodland Park complained.

PAC members also had some questions about the personnel and administrative costs. “Cement and mortar are easy to judge, but personnel activity is behind the scenes,” Reese said. “You have to show me how this contributes to our strategy.”

That isn’t always easy, PDC’s Leah Greenwood said, because this category includes people whose work serves several districts or the agency as a whole. In addition, she said, “Different districts have different staffing needs, and in neighborhood districts the costs tend to be higher.” Staff might spend as much time on a $15,000 improvement project for a local business as they would on a $20 million development in the South Waterfront.

Greenwood also gave a report on the use of the set-aside funds. In each district PDC has set guidelines on what this budget subset should be spent on. In Gateway and four other districts, PDC recommends that between 35 and 50 percent of the set-aside funds be spent on very low-income rental housing, serving people earning 30 percent or less of median area income. Rental and owner-occupied housing for people earning 31 to 60 percent of median should get 20 to 45 percent of the pot. For owner-occupied housing serving people earning 61 to 80 percent of median (or up to 100 percent for houses having at least three bedrooms), the share should be 20 to 40 percent. Facilities serving predominantly low-income people should get no more than 10 percent of the budget. This last category could not be used to fund a conventional community center, Greenwood said, but might be used for a shelter or a low-income health care clinic.

Reese asked if this meant that Gateway would “all look like Rockwood,” a low-income area of Gresham. “There’s a wide range of things this money could be spent on,” Greenwood said. It could be used for affordable housing maintenance, or for “workforce” housing geared to the incomes of wage earners. It could be used to acquire land for housing development, although in this case, “there’d be a need to make a decision up front about what the land would be used for,” she said. It could conceivably pay for infrastructure costs to make development possible, she conceded, although in this case the connection to affordable housing would have to be very clear.

In a related matter, PDC’s Byron Estes said the agency had yet to pick another staffer to be in charge of Gateway. Sara King was reassigned to the Oregon Convention Center district last year, and her replacement, Megan Dobbs, served barely two months before moving on to another position elsewhere.

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