Voters across Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties trusted Metro in November 2018 with a historic $652.8 million general obligation bond to fund the creation of affordable housing across the region. Less than two years later, in May 2020, they approved a program that will complement the new housing with supportive services – such as job training, addiction services, and case management.
Metro’s involvement in in the creation of affordable housing goes as far back as the year 2000, when it helped fund more than 230 affordable homes through its Transit Oriented Development (TOD) program. The program arose from the need to ensure thoughtful and mixed-use development along major transit lines. Over time the program evolved to also address some of the harmful side effects that often accompany new infrastructure – skyrocketing rents, for example, that lead to displacement.
In the last three years TOD’s focus on affordability has contributed to the construction of an additional 1,200 units. And the production numbers are on the rise. In 2019, TOD funds contributed to building 399 affordable housing units, and in 2020 alone, that number will be upwards of 600.
An affordable home, under this definition, is one whose rent is capped at a level that makes it accessible to people whose income is 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). The AMI is calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and it indicates the midpoint of a region’s income distribution – meaning that exactly half the people living in the area make more than that amount, and half make less.
An example of the kinds of housing Metro has funded through the TOD program is Argyle Gardens in the North Portland neighborhood of Kenton, which opened this past June. Metro contributed $340,000 to the development, which created more than 70 new homes for people with low incomes (all units are available to people earning 50% of the AMI) and individuals transitioning out of homelessness. It is located within a short walking distance of the Kenton/ N Denver MAX station, and a frequent service bus line that connects it with St. Johns, Downtown and Eastern Division.
Another example is the Willow Creek Crossing Apartments in Hillsboro. Metro’s TOD program contributed half a million dollars to this complex, which opened in February, bringing 121 new affordable homes to Washington County. The six-story building, which also includes 2,350 square feet of commercial space, is within walking distance of the Willow Creek MAX station, with multiple connecting bus lines.
Affordability and access to transit go hand in hand. “Lower-income households rely on transit more than anyone, so it’s a natural fit from the program’s perspective,” said Patrick McLaughlin, senior development project manager for housing and transit-oriented development at Metro. “That is why Metro’s TOD program has stepped in and provided funds to many transit-supportive affordable housing projects that needed just a little more financial support to get over the hump.”
The housing crisis is a regional problem, and voters recognized that Metro – greater Portland’s democratically elected regional government – was in the right position to solve it. Since its inception in the 1970s, Metro has been the place where local city and county governments convene to tackle challenges that cross jurisdictional lines. And with its previous contributions to affordable housing production, the agency has demonstrated that it is ready for the challenge.