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Tax abatement boundaries may change

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Tax abatement boundaries may change


You have surely heard this one about western Oregon weather: “If you don't like it, wait ten minutes.” In the same spirit, the boundaries of various City tax abatement programs have changed, and may change again.

The Portland Office of Housing is revising the boundaries for these programs, which relieve owners of the need to pay property taxes for structures - as opposed to the land - for ten years if they meet certain requirements. For programs targeting multi-family construction, the eligibility requirements include a stipulation that owners keep at least 20 percent of their units “affordable” to people making 100 percent or less of median household income, which translates to $73,000 a year for a family of four. They must also include some “amenities” from a menu of possibilities, and among these are providing large units suitable for families with children.

The programs have been available in the Gateway and Lents urban renewal districts, and east Portland community activists have complained bitterly about them. They encourage developers to build low-income housing in areas that already have an over-supply of it and lack the facilities such as schools and sidewalks to support it, while at the same time denying local jurisdictions the resources to deal with the problems. A different program provides tax abatement for first-time home buyers provided that the home in question is valued at not more than 100 percent of median home price ($246,000 currently), and the house is owner-occupied for the duration of the abatement.

Following an examination called the Big Look, Housing has issued a preliminary draft of a revision to these programs. It called for removing some of the multi-family tax abatement programs from Lents, especially north of Southeast Holgate Boulevard and east of 112th Avenue. At the same time, Housing has removed 757 acres of land for the Homebuyer program from inner northeast and added 1,117 acres in Lents and Gateway.

Housing has also added land to the multi-family programs, nearly all of it in inner southeast along Southeast Belmont and Division streets, Hawthorne and Powell boulevards. According to bureau personnel, they did so largely because this area fit one criterion: “walkability.” That is, there were many public facilities and retail services within easy walking distance, making this an appropriate place for housing development.

Local community activists do not agree with this judgment on several grounds. They fear it will spur a boom in high-density development at the expense of single-family homes. They also question whether the corridors targeted in fact have many services to offer beyond restaurants and bars. Finally, they are asking why they have been singled out; surely, other corridors are eligible according to this criterion.

On this last point, Housing representatives agree. The inner southeast corridor territory probably will not be withdrawn from consideration, but other areas will be added to it, in a new map expected to be released before the end of April.

In a related matter, longtime Argay neighborhood activist Valerie Curry has complained about local properties that received public assistance on the understanding that they would be “owner-occupied” - and were not.

This raises a point: Of what value are regulations associated with such programs if they are not enforced?

Kate Allen of the Bureau of Housing, she could not comment on the property Curry weas questioning because she was not familiar with the circumstances. However, she says, the City does and will carry out yearly inspections of homes receiving the tax abatement programs now under discussion.
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