The Affordable Housing Con Game Takes Another Step
Today's front page of the Oregonian had some dramatic and somewhat silly pictures of tram construction, but it was a less obvious article that caught my eye. It was a story about scaling back affordable housing as part of the South Waterfront deal, so for those bloggers who had 8-12-06 in the pool, you win. You know the pool - the contest to pick a date on when they'd start floating news stories of the next "correction" in the plan. I just wish the City Council would spare us the phony anguish and remorse - the part where nobody could have imagined this might happen. Let me just save you the time: Many of us knew this was coming and we also know that the con you've run on the city of Portland depended on misrepresenting the truth. Perhaps you have achieved that ultimate political device: The ability to lie to yourself, but I'm not buying it. I suspect a jury would say this was a set-up from day 1 and a clear case of fraud. This time - unlike the tram - the idea that no one was minding the store is going to be a lot harder to sell. Everyone sure acted like they poured over these numbers, so to try and express surprise that they don't add up, is false incompetence. I don't believe it would stand up in court. Let me just review the mechanics of the con job that Portland is witnessing and will be paying for over the next half century: The City Council makes a sweetheart deal - one of their business partnerships - that benefits the rich people of Portland and rich people who are yet to move here. You attach some tear-jerking sentimental jive about affordable housing, and make a bunch of noise about how sincere you are about helping the little people, then you do a mid-course correction that keeps all the things that benefit the rich people, and start scraping the other plans off your shoe. Meanwhile the taxpayers of Portland end up funding the project at a cost of something like 700 million dollars - including a de facto transferral of tax revenue into the pockets of developers. It would be one thing if the condo market needed a nudge, but this condo market is red hot, and yet the City Council is concentrating our money on expanding the profit margins of those involved. Then of course, the stuff that doesn't make big bucks for the developers - the stuff that was used to help sell the deal - is later jettisoned from the picture. It's a plan that counts on voter ignorance, just as the talk of transparency in government counts on a lack of transparency in government. Anyone who dissents is accused of hating Portland and the con game proceeds. The City Council relies on a lag between when they act and when they "realize" what they did cannot work. It is this lag that they need to maintain their innocence. As each new version of this scam unfolds the same way right before our eyes, that lag of innocence fades into a joke. More and more it begins to look like something a jury would see right through.
Affordable housing on waterfront is debated