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Fourth and final development in the Lents Town Center urban renewal area is officially under construction

In 1941, folk musician Woody Guthrie rented a small apartment in Lents. Now, a few blocks away from that site, his namesake development — with affordable housing — is going up.

Golden shovels dug in Wednesday at Southeast 91st Avenue and Reedway Street in the Lents Town Center, marking the beginning of construction on Woody Guthrie Place, a 64-unit affordable housing development in the urban renewal district. It will be one of the first mixed-income workforce housing projects to be built in the rapidly growing Lents Town Center. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - Elected officials from Prosper Portland, Metro, the Portland Housing Bureau, Multnomah County, the State of Oregon, the Multnomah County Health Department plus staff and board from ROSE Community Development attended.

Since the formation of the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area in 1998, Prosper Portland has invested $90 million in infrastructure, facilities, transportation, affordable housing and business development, but actual transformation of the area lagged. With more tangible results as the goal, Prosper Portland and the city, with community support and input, rolled out the Lents Five-Year Action Plan in early 2014, calling for focused investments that would have the greatest benefit and impact on existing residents and businesses.

More than 50 elected officials from Prosper Portland, Metro, the Portland Housing Bureau, Multnomah County, the State of Oregon and Multnomah County Health Departments along with ROSE board and staff and community members attended.

"Prosper Portland is focused on building healthy, complete neighborhoods, and to collaborate with partners for a more equitable community," said Kimberly Branam, executive director of Prosper Portland.

The Lents Town Center urban renewal plan also includes the Asian Health and Service Center, Lents Commons and Oliver Station. They all have 2018 completion dates.

Altogether, the four Lents projects add 180 affordable units, 38,000 square feet of commercial space and 30,000 square feet of office space to the neighborhood.

"We're trying something different with offering commercial space affordably, and launching a new program to do that," Branam said. "This milestone represents the hard work of many people."

Residents' households can have qualifying incomes ranging from 30 percent to 100 percent of the area median income, and 15 units have Project-Based Section 8 vouchers.

Jim Smith, chair of the board of commissioners, came from Home Forward, which is responsible for covering the vouchers.

"The mechanism allows someone to cover rent on a unit, house or apartment. It's either given to a person or attached to a unit or house," Smith said. "It's critical we have a lot of confidence in whoever is responsible for that unit. We're committed to making sure as rents go up, people who have lived here aren't driven out."

Metro councilor Bob Stacey (District 6) said Woody Guthrie Place directly contributes to Metro's transit-oriented goals by adding shopping and office needs along with walkability.

"We're very pleased to be part of this element of wonderful change occurring in Lents where affordable and market can be mixed together," Stacey said.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JULES ROGERS - Kimberly Branam, executive director of Prosper Portland, offered comments at the event.

Stacey compared the Lents experience, where driving through the Foster-Woodstock intersections is full of new construction, to the Pearl District becoming bright towers over a few years.

"I knew that was the dream and plan ... I had that experience driving down Foster," Stacey said. "Hats off."

Portland Housing Bureau director Kurt Creager called the project "a means by which we can attain inclusion."

"Every week it feels like we're either doing a groundbreaking, grand opening or topping out," Creager said at the event. "Affordable housing wouldn't be possible without Home Forward — it's keeping people in their homes and making sure they're not priced out."

Creager said the Bureau of Development Services fast-tracks projects that are jointly sponsored by the city.

"We've been able to prove we can accelerate affordable housing by doing that," Creager said. "(Woody Guthrie Place) is one of the first in the city to submit online."

The project is planned to be LEED Gold or higher, and Portland General Electric's renewable energy fund is supporting a solar photovoltaic system and electric vehicle charging stations. The solar system will provide 70 percent of the building's energy needs.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said, "It's clear we need to invest more in projects like this that wouldn't exist without policies grown during the Great Depression."

"Federal funding for housing is under fire. D.C. might not have the will to say it or pay for it," Kafoury said. "Housing and healthcare are human rights and are intertwined. There is no healing without housing. Multnomah County is trying to tie these together."

Completion is slated for November, 2018.

By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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