What, exactly, is ‘affordable’ housing?

Affordable housing is based on median income in an area

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer praised the affordable housing model at the grand opening for Gilman Court in east Portland, July 20, 2015. (KOIN)
On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer praised the affordable housing model at the grand opening for Gilman Court in east Portland, July 20, 2015. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — What is affordable housing?

“Affordable” is a relative term. In short, affordable housing means that no matter what the price of rent, other comparable units in the same area cost considerably more.

On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer praised the affordable housing model at the grand opening for Gilman Court in east Portland.

“When we were first starting this, Portland had all the problems that other cities had,” Blumenauer said. “Now we have all the other problems other cities want.”

Gilman Court is a 60-unit residential building for seniors, people like Jack Helms, a veteran who is saving more than $400 a month in rent since he moved in.

At a groundbreaking for similar units in Beaverton last week, rent for a 1-bedroom unit are about $750, while a 3-bedroom apartment goes for $1050.

But those prices spurred comments on the KOIN 6 Facebook page including:

“That’s affordable? My mortgage is less.”
“Affordable? That’s a joke, right? Maybe for an apartment in the Pearl District.”

But Reach Community Development’s Dan Valliere, the CEO for the group that built Gilman Court and other similar spots, defines affordability based on median family income.

In Portland, that’s $50,000. Seniors who bring in 60% of that — $30,000 or less — qualify for 56 of the units.

“There are a lot of people who qualify and are happy to pay this rent level,” Valliere said.

A graphic explaining affordable housing in the Portland area, July 20, 2015 (KOIN)
A graphic explaining affordable housing in the Portland area, July 20, 2015 (KOIN)

The simplest way to define affordable, he said, is the apartments will cost 20% to 60% less than similar ones in the surrounding area.

“We basically say it’s affordable to people at a certain income. So if someone’s income is a lot lower than what our units are marketed at, then we explain there are other opportunities because there are other buildings or other apartments that might be affordable to them,” Valliere said. “It gives people opportunity to live all across the city and not only in certain areas.”

Developers like Reach CDC build and rent for less because they get subsidies from state government via tax credits — and that savings is put toward lowering the cost.

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