Social Experiment with Way Too Much Mix

Last year the Civic-Morrison complex on West Burnside was launched as a social experiment. Market-rate condos and subsidized housing for low-income renters have been put together side by side, designed so that people from different social classes will mix with each other. The idea is that instead of just living near each other, people would start mingling.

Margaret Bax, the city housing policy manager, has described the Civic-Morrison as “the wave of the future;” but she admitted that it is possible mainly because the Housing Authority of Portland owned the property on which both buildings are standing.

The original plan was to create a mixed-income neighborhood with low-income working poor and upper-middle-income households, but the plan took an unexpected turn when the Housing Authority ran out of money and had to ask for an additional $3 million from the City of Portland to complete the Morrison. The city gave the money, but only on condition that the apartment would set aside 45 units for the homeless as “permanently supportive housing.”

A recent Portland Tribune article discusses the kinds of tenants occupying the Morrison apartments which have been built for low-income workers. Most of them are in their 20s. Many hold college degrees but deliberately “earn less” through part-time jobs so that they can qualify to reside in these below-market-rate apartments. Only 6 units have children. One of the ex-homeless occupants smokes in her apartment, although smoking is not generally allowed in this facility.

The Civic, which is the market-priced condo in the same complex, is mostly occupied by young and single upper-middle-class individuals who found it interesting to take part in this social experiment. These are the same people who probably would move out to suburbia when they get married and have kids.

And where would this mix of high-income, low-income and ex-homeless people meet and interact? Perhaps in the common parking lot or in the fancy retail stores occupying the ground floors of both the Civic and the Morrison. Is this the kind of mix of people that the Housing Authority had in mind to create with public money? This is utopian thinking at its best.


Sreya Sarkar is a policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market think tank.

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Posted by at 04:58 | Posted in Measure 37 | 29 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Rupert in Springfield

    Ok, so let me get this straight, if I work full time I get to pay the market rate for the condo but if I decide not to work or work only part time I get to pay a subsidized rate?

    Oh my God, what a great idea! If nothing else this perfectly crystallizes the idea of governments view of why people work in the first place. Not to provide a better life for themselves, but simply to generate more money for government. You apparently get the same housing regardless of your efforts.

    I’m not sure who these idiots are who would pay market rates for a condo next to some homeless guys pad, but I sure hope this isn’t the sort we will be bailing out in “the sub prime loan crises”.

    • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

      About ten years ago I had a guy working for me that came back to me the day after I had given him a generous raise to ask me to rescind it so he could keep the $20,000 kitchen remodeling grant the city or county had awarded his family. These people made about $45,000 a year then, so they weren’t exactly poor. The wife worked for the county and I’ve always suspected there was some lack of coincicdence there.

      I also once lived in a nice apartment complex in CA where there was a deliberate mix of subsidized and market rate housing. Wish I’d known this before I moved in. The pattern was predictable. The subsidized tenants trashed the shared facilities and the market rate tenants NEVER renewed their leases.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll wager, that as usual, there’s not any accounting available for the totality of public subsidy this asinine idea cost. Hundreds of bureaucrats churning out these reckless uses of public money and none of them are charged with adding up the entire taxpayer cost for public consideration. The system that produces these schemes is ripe with negligence and mismanagement and represents the perfect recipe for misappropriation, embezzlement and the enrichment of cronies.

  • CRAWDUDE

    More of the cities tax money going just to downtown, wake up people!

  • Sreya Sarkar

    Thanks for the comments.

    The Portland Tribune article lacks interviews with the Civic condo owners. It might be interesting to find out what their experience is like, buying into this “fantasy land” dream.

    Multnomah county has a 9000 waiting list of working poor households for subsidized housing, but the part-time student workers and the chronically homeless jump this list and get into this new facility.

    There is absolutely no accountability here.

  • dean

    You all seem to be drawing a lot of sweeping conclusions based on not much data in one newspaper article.

    • CRAWDUDE

      Portland Tribune has an article out on the same project, so I guess we are all drawing conclusions from two articles as of now.

      What is the basis of your comment?

      Does Dean have a formula of how many articles one must read to conclude something?

      Obviously, you just read our posts and came to a sweeping conclusion that we were coming to sweeping conclusions, bit hypocritical wouldn’t you say?

  • Bad Boy Brown

    I saw the Tribune article that featured the collge student and the ex-bag lady. It will be more than a little interesting when most of these formerly homeless nutballs begin reverting to type all over again. (As I’m sure they will!)
    Once again, the bureaucrats in Portland show they are more interested in the chronic losers of society than the working folks that pay the taxes.

    • CRAWDUDE

      Those who work, pay for those who won’t 🙁

      • dean

        CD…the post references the same Portland Tribune article, so by my math that makes one, not 2.

        And no…I have no formula, but try to restrain my own sweeping conclusions to more data and analysis than I ever get from a single article. I’m not always successful by the way.

        Anyway, given the high cost of tuition for today’s students, given the debt mountain they can end up saddled with by graduation, what is wrong with a part-time college student getting in line for subsidized housing? Does low income have to be a permanent condition before one can get any assistance? That would seem to contradict conservative principles that advocate a hand up rather than a handout.

        • Sreya Sarkar

          Dear Dean,

          I was a graduate student in Philadelphia for 2 years and had to share my apartment with two other girls. We paid $1500 per month (this was in 2003-4) for the two bedroom apartment that was converted into three bedroom, cutting out the living room. The housing condition was pathetic and we could not wait to complete our education and get a job so that we could get better accommodation.

          This is a common story, it happens everywhere in this country.

          I did not expect anyone to offer me a subsidized housing arrangement or any other subsidized program because it was my decision to pursue higher ed. No body had forced me to be in that condition. Like me many other students struggle and come out of this situation without others’ help.

          Portland Tribune had published another article on the same scheme last year. If you search for “the new civic hybrid” in the PT website, you will find the second article.

          It is true that there is not enough data but that should lead to more investigation and not shutting the case close.

          And as for “hand up”s, we are talking about public money being handed out without taking the public in confidence. If somebody is handing out or up their own money we don’t have the right to say much, but this is public money we are talking about. And who ever thought discouraging taking up good jobs by offering inexpensive housing as good policy?

          Dean, we are talking about associated issues but not the core one which is about “accountability”. I am sure the condo owners or even the Morrison tenants did not know about the 45 unit homeless conditionality when they first signed up for the apartments.

          Thank you for a different perspective, Dean.

          • dean

            Sreya…congratulations on your own self-sufficiency with respect to your education. I had a similar personal experience, though many years ago when tuition and housing were both proportinately more affordable than today, and the minimum wage went much further.

            I’m all for accountability when allocating public money. I don’t know that this is a good case to showcase poor acountability, based on what we know so far from the 2 articles.

            I find it interesting that part of your and oher readers objections is over the point that some housing was set aside to help get a few homeless people off the streets. There seems to be an assumption that homelessness implies mental illness, alcoholism, filth, and so forth. Certainly there is a correlation with all those things, particularly since Ronald Reagan emptied the institutions that once housed mentally ill people, but there are also homeless people who are only temporarily down on their luck no? Is there an assumption or evidence that the formerly homeless people now housed in the project described are wandering the halls pushing overloaded shopping carts, muttering to themselves?

          • Sybella

            Again dean. Take some into your home then zip it

          • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

            Agreed.

            Sybella is right on. If you really gave a damn about “the homeless” you’d open up your house to them. Instead, you choose to live as far from the problem as you can, in Damascus, and advocate the spending of other people’s money.

            I’d be willing to bet you’ve never given a dime to the Portland Rescue Mission or the Salvation Army (okay, maybe a quarter grudgingly thrust into the kettle at Christmas) or ever volunteered to be a bell ringer or work at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Ah, but then you might actually have to talk to or (God forbid!) touch a homeless person.

            You’re nothing but a typical whiny liberal hypocrite.

          • dean

            And if mindless accusations and name calling were Olympic sports you could maybe make Albania’s team.

          • Rupert in Springfield

            Oh good Lord – Ronald Regan emptied the mental institutions? Would you please, please, for the love of God pick up a book and actually read the history of this. I mean this is utterly ridiculous liberal boiler plate in the extreme. The usual left wing constituencies, civil rights groups, mental health advocates etc. argued incessantly that it was wrong to institutionalize people unless they were a clear danger to themselves or others back in the 70’s. Great, they finally got their wish, it became almost impossible to compel institutionalization without the danger to themselves or others condition, and now the same people who care oh so much about others blame it on Regan.

            I guess I shouldn’t wonder at yet more spouting of the boiler plate from the leftist hive mind. The Swiss watch predictability of blaming others others when their brilliant ideas go wrong is sooooo par for the course.

          • dean

            Rupert…sure there were other advocates for transferring mental health services from long term instututions to community health centers. But there is no question it was Reagan who gutted federal funding for The Mental Health Systems Act, which had been passed under Carter. Reagan’s initial budget cut 25 percent cut from Federal funding for mental health and converted what funding there was left into a block grant to the States with few restrictions and absent any policy guidelines. The 1981 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act provided a block grant to States for mental health services and substance abuse, and repealed most of the provisions of the Mental Health Systems Act. Basically Reagan reversed nearly three decades of Federal involvement and leadership on mental health.

            And yes….homeless populations increased by huge amounts, with increasing percents being mentally ill. Look it up.

  • Anonymous

    Dean,
    You seem to be showing up here defending every questionable land use and transportation policy. Defense based on no more than the same theories that usher long these policies to begin with.
    You demonstrate no interest in assessing the outcomes in any honest and impartial way while representing the status quo which enjoys your helping them avoid any and all accountability.
    It’s pretty clear you are part of the problem we face in pursuing sound public policies and investments.

    In the case of subsidized housing it is imperative that officials are held accountable for their decisions. And that somehow we the taxpayers get what millions of dollars could and should be providing.
    There is ample evidence from several major projects that far more housing units for many more genuinely needy people could have been provided had there been real management, oversight and accountability.
    BUT every single time critics attempt to expose the realities beneath these, and other, policies people like you roll out to diminish and obstruct the public scrutiny and changes needed.

    • dean

      Fair enough anonymous person. My personal experience and bias is more accepting of the goals of local land use, conservation, and tansportation policies than most who read or write on this site.

      But is the Portland Tribune coverage sufficient to draw the conclusions you and others seem to be drawing on the particular project they profiled? That is the question I posed. I was not defending this or any other project, and would not want to obstruct anyone’s attempt at scrutiny. What I do try and obstruct, or at least call into question, is half baked conclusions based on flimsy data or analysis. I try to hold my own side to that same standard.

      Let me pose 3 questions:
      1) Should subsidized housing include provision for otherwise homeless people, as the City required for its contribution?
      2) Should it include provision for individuals in their 20s who meet the income requirements? Including college graduates or students?
      3) Is there sufficient evidence in this particular case to conclude that public funds were poorly allocated or misused?

      • John Fairplay

        Here are a few thoughts on your questions:

        1) Subsidized housing should be limited to those who are actively working to better their circumstances. This means if you have a minimum wage job, you are in school bettering your skills, or you are actively pursuing better employment. Subsidized housing should not be used as a substitute for mental institutions or jails. These facilities should use mandatory weekly drug testing for all residents. Test positive, and you’re on the street.

        2) Subsidized housing should be available for those over 21 years of age who can prove they are in school full or part time. The amount of the subsidy should decrease with fewer credit hours. The difference between market rate and the subsidized rent should go as a lien against the student’s future earnings. Subsidized housing should serve as a bridge to these young people’s futures, but since they are asking the government to do a job their parents ought to do, it should come at a cost. Same drug testing policy applies.

        3. No. And it’s unlikely that any future article will either, as the press in Oregon is not interested in discovering waste in government programs, only cheerleading for them.

        • dean

          Thanks John.

        • dian

          That makes so much more sense than anything I’ve heard in a long time. That gives a hand up to those who try and doesn’t reward those who do not try.

          I also wonder about the huge numbers of (quote) (unquote) mental ill people. Has any body ever asked why we have so many problems. My opinion, it is the failure of society and yes government and yes bleeding hearts to actually “teach” people how to overcome their own problems instead of requiring somebody else to overcome their problems for them then they don’t have too. Quit medicating our kids to death to keep them quiet. Medication can alter minds and does.

          Back to the subject. We all need help from time to time, but none of us need to have that help be made a way of life.

      • Sybella

        Dean, you don’t even need a report. Open your eyes, quit talking and just take a good long hard look around you. It’s really hard to see the forest for the trees, especially with blinders on.

  • Anonymous

    Dean,
    The only thing half baked and flimsy is your pretense, or delusion, that the only information is in this story. That this is some sort of ground breaking new thing without history or a track record. There’s no question this little “experiment” will not turn out as “envisioned”
    and as demonstrated by the Tribune story we’ll never get a full accounting of the TOTAL and on going public cost. Which is the case with most of these city adventures. There are recent projects of similar experimentation that are already swaying, like many before, from the plans always prematurely touted as successes.

    Let me pose 3 questions:
    1) Should subsidized housing, with or without homeless units, include a provision to require the City to report it’s entire contribution?
    2) Should it include provision for the city to follow up with ongoing performance reports to know if individuals at any age, are in genuine need and meet the income requirements?
    3) Is there sufficient means to know, in any particular case, that public funds were either poorly allocated or well invested when there is no total cost per tenant provided?

    Having ventured into the finances of many municipal projects I can assure your there are good reasons to be drawing, what you call, “sweeping conclusions” based on this one newspaper article. For in the context of the City’s MO this is just another one of those entirely predictable pipe dreams without any follow up or accountability.

    At the end of this saga we will have seen yet another reckless expenditure of excess tax dollars where fundamental oversight and assessment would have provided more service to more people for less money.

    • dean

      So you are drawing specific negative conclusions about this particular project based on experiences you may or may not have had with other projects of a similar nature? Therefore, this “experiment” cannot turn out as envisioned?

      You probably don’t intend to, but you are helping making my initial point for me. Thanks for that…whoever you are.

      • CRAWDUDE

        Your initial point was pointless since you used contrived instead of concrete facts to support it.

        • dean

          Dude…I did not use ANY facts. I questioned whether the newspaper articles the critique was based on contained sufficient facts for the critique. The answer I got from Sreya up above was an honest no, the articles did not contain sufficient facts. So all the critiques on this post are based on people’s pre-conceived bias about subsidized housing, about planning, or about social policy in general, which was my point. This is a discussion about bias, not about facts or serious analysis.

          I think the anonymous person below has a reasonable argument. That based on his or her knowledge of similar projects this particular one is also likely to not turn out as envisioned. I can buy into that line of argument, and I would make the same argument against invading Iran for example, that the Iraq invasion has not turned out as envisioned by the planners.

  • Anonymous

    No Dean, I am making rational and well reasoned assumptions, yes negative, about this particular project, because it has all the same earmarks I have seen other projects of a similar nature.

    Therefore, this “experiment” will most likely NOT turn out as envisioned.

    Your initial point, as usual lacks any and all experience with these issues. Your auto pilot support and defense of all things planned around here leaves you severely lacking in any credibility.
    Yet you tout the various forms of land use and transportation planning exactly how our government propagandists do.
    And all the while never interested in actually knowing the dollars and sense of it all.

  • Anonymous

    When I was a kid one of our western states built homes for the indians on a reservation. Reason, they needed help and of course the powers that be could help. It wasn’t a year before the recipients were back in their hogans and turned those nice houses into barns.

    True story, it happened years ago, but the principal of giving to those who do not want to do for themselves is the same. Give them a house, they will destroy it, help them build their own house and they care because it’s theirs.

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