PORTLAND, ORE.—New Columbia isn’t just a public housing development. It is a brand new neighborhood. The sprawling project involved the total reconstruction of the aging Columbia Villa public housing development. Built in 1942 for World War II shipyard workers, the area had become socially, physically, and economically isolated from the rest of the city.
Reinventing the 82-acre tract of land into a mixed-use, mixed-income community became the largest neighborhood revitalization effort in Portland, increasing the original number of housing units to 854 from 462. The Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) completed construction of its 556 rental units in 2006. Trenton Terrace, a 66-unit affordable seniors housing project developed by the nonprofit Northwest Housing Alternatives that is part of the overall development, was completed in January. The last of the 232 for-sale homes that are being built by private homebuilders will be completed this year. Fortyone of these homes are affordable.
“It’s been a spark plug for new thinking about how to build more complete communities,” said Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten. “It has caught people’s sense of imagination.”
The community includes a four-acre city park and four smaller pocket parks, a new public elementary school, a Boys and Girls Club attached to the school, and Portland Community College’s learning center. Main Street is a multi-use neighborhood center with apartments above the streetfront stores and public buildings. The architecture draws on Portland’s Craftsman and Northwest housing styles.
To create diversity within the new neighborhood, five different homebuilders are developing the single-family homes. “It feels very new and current, which people like, and it has a more traditional, small town feel to how it all interplays,” Sten said, giving credit to the housing authority and its architects.
New Columbia demonstrates that “housing authorities can act as a developer successfully on complicated projects,” said Mike Andrews, director of development and community revitalization at HAP.
The development aimed to be environmentally sensitive. Two of its mixed-use buildings have received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a first for a HOPE VI project. More than half of the existing trees were preserved.
HAP’s housing cost about $156 million and was seeded with a $35 million federal HOPE VI grant. The figure also includes the costs for relocation of former residents, demolition, and infrastructure work. There are 370 public housing and project-based Sec. 8 units.
Former public housing residents were offered the opportunity to return to the new community. About 110 of the families came back, according to Andrews.
To finance its rental units, HAP completed four mixed-finance closings that were staggered throughout 14 months to meet construction deadlines. There were four lowincome housing tax credit (LIHTC) transactions— two involving 4 percent tax credits and two involving 9 percent LIHTCs—totaling $58.7 million. Syndicators included Alliant Capital, MMA Financial, and Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. HAP also did three bond closings, including one transaction secured by future federal capital funds. In addition, New Columbia received support from the city of Portland and various foundations.
Developer: Housing Authority of Portland
Northwest Housing Alternatives developed Trenton Terrace, the affordable seniors development that is part of the community.
Architects: Dull Olson Weekes Architects
Michael Willis Architects
Mithun Robertson, Merryman, Barnes Architects
Department of Housing and Urban Development
City of Portland, Ore.
Oregon Housing and Community Services
Enterprise Community Investment, Inc.