Portland ready to plunk down $51 million for affordable housing project

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The Portland Housing Bureau wants to buy the 263-unit Ellington apartments in Northeast Portland for $47 million.

That didn’t take long.

Although Portland city officials have yet to certify results from last month’s election, they’ve already decided how to spend a big chunk of money from the newly approved $258.4 million bond measure for affordable housing.

Next week, the City Council will be asked to approve up to $51 million to buy a 263-unit apartment complex in Northeast Portland. Most of that money will come from the bond.

The complex, called The Ellington, has been part of the city’s checkered history addressing affordable housing needs. City officials have now stepped in to lock in long-term affordability after past owners successfully avoided most requirements, despite a string of lawsuits.

The Portland Housing Bureau has agreed to pay $47 million for the complex, with an additional $4 million expected to cover closing costs and some initial repairs.

A collection of buyers, led by Portland’s Guardian Real Estate Services, bought the property in 2006 for $16.5 million.

City officials didn’t obtain an appraisal before agreeing to buy the project, according to Kurt Creager, director of the Housing Bureau.

Creager said it’s been past practice to obtain appraisals but suggested there’s “no policy per se.” He said three offers were submitted above $45 million.

“With competitive offers in the same range of value, an appraisal would have been an unnecessary delay and an additional cost which was unwarranted,” he said in an email.

The Housing Bureau plans to direct $37 million from its housing bond toward the purchase, or about 14 percent of the total approved by voters. Additional money could come from a federally backed loan.

The Ellington is a sprawling complex on about 11 acres near Northeast 66th Avenue and Halsey Street. It includes 211 two-bedroom units and 40 three-bedroom units.

Since 1991, the project was supposed to be a home for low-income families thanks to its reliance on a tax-credit program. But state officials lifted those restrictions because of paperwork problems created by a past owner.

Several lawsuits ensued, resulting in an agreement last year to maintain affordability restrictions on 44 units.

Now, all the units will be affordable to families earning no more than 60 percent of the region’s median. And nearly one-third of all the units will be set aside for families earning no more than 30 percent of the region’s median.

“Acquiring this property will help us meet two goals of the Affordable Housing Bond –  preventing displacement and providing much-needed deeply affordable housing for Portland families,” Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the  Housing Bureau, said in a statement. “We are grateful to Portland voters for giving us this essential resources to help stabilize more Portland families.”

— Brad Schmidt

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