Tenant groups cry foul over Yard vacation rentals

Advocates say Yard's vacation rentals aren't helping ease burden of housing crisis

The Yard apartment complex was awarded tax credits for affordable housing units, but also rented out an entire floor to a vacation rental company. (KOIN)
The Yard apartment complex was awarded tax credits for affordable housing units, but also rented out an entire floor to a vacation rental company. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The controversial Yard apartment complex on Portland’s northeast waterfront is again making headlines.

Construction of the high-rise was promoted by the City of Portland as a way to solve the housing crisis, according to renter advocacy groups, and the city awarded the Yard’s developers with tax credits for designating more than 50 affordable housing units on 3 of its floors.

But now those same advocates are crying foul amid news the developer is renting out an entire floor of the building to a vacation rental company.

“They should not be handing out tax credits to buildings that are not meeting the demands for long-term residents,” Margot Black with Portland Tenants United said.

KOIN 6 News learned Vacasa has taken the lease on 18 units in the Yard and is renting them out for thousands of dollars.

The Yard apartment complex was awarded tax credits for affordable housing units, but also rented out an entire floor to a vacation rental company. (KOIN)
The Yard apartment complex was awarded tax credits for affordable housing units, but also rented out an entire floor to a vacation rental company. (KOIN)

While Black believes the Yard’s affordable housing units are “a good thing,” she says taking apartments off the market for vacation rentals isn’t helping ease the burden of the city’s housing crisis.

“We all agree we are in a housing crisis, that crisis has been attributed to a lack of supply,” Black said. “We are not saying we have a hotel shortage in Portland. We are not having a hotel crisis.”

When asked if removing available units from the supply chain was preventing the landlord from lowering rent, Vacasa’s Chief Development Officer Cliff Johnson said he didn’t think so, simply because there just isn’t enough demand to fill all of the units.

“There were still a lot of vacant units in the building, even after we rented that floor,” Johnson said. “If there was such a demand for them to lower rent, or even enough demand to fill those units, that would have been happening anyway.”

In fact, Johnson and local advocates are in agreement that developers across the city have invested most heavily in luxury housing, but the demand may not be there.

“I think what you are seeing in Portland is that there is a trend to build higher-end apartments,” he said. “Those are not going to solve the affordable housing issue.”

Vacasa Chief Development Officer Cliff Johnson sits down with KOIN 6 News reporter Jennifer Dowling, January 4, 2017. (KOIN)
Vacasa Chief Development Officer Cliff Johnson sits down with KOIN 6 News reporter Jennifer Dowling, January 4, 2017. (KOIN)

Other issues that could use some attention, Johnson says, are the city’s complex laws surrounding short-term rentals. He claims the Yard’s developer was under the impression the high-end units could be used for vacation rentals, as long as units designated for affordable housing weren’t involved.

“The thing that ultimately came out later is that the tax credits did not allow for short-term rental use in the building as a whole,” Johnson said.

Vasca will not be renewing its lease with the Yard and will be out by April.

The Yard’s key backer, Guardian Real Estate Services, sold the building in December, but didn’t provide further comment on the tax credit situation.

KOIN 6 News reached out to Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau, but he did not return a request for an interview.

Portland’s Department of Housing and Community Development also did not respond to a request by KOIN 6 News for comment.