Rob Justus isn’t waiting for somebody at City Hall to pat him on the back, but he is wondering why nobody has. Housing officials have noted Portland is about 12,000 units shy of low-income housing, and the lack of low-rent living spaces is driving many working poor into the ranks of homelessness.
Meanwhile, Justus is doing what many in the housing field say is impossible — building sturdy apartments for $70,000 per unit. At his new building at Southeast 151st Avenue and Burnside Street, right near a MAX stop, tenants are paying an average of $650 a month for rent. And Justus accomplished his project without public funding, though he did get a waiver on system development fees.
“We’re three times as cheap as what is being built for publicly funded affordable housing,” Justus says.
Justus founded nonprofit JOIN, one of the city’s most respected homeless agencies, before transforming himself into a developer of low-income housing. He says he could build hundreds more low-income housing units without public funding. But he’d need more cooperation from the city Bureau of Development Services. He has all sorts of ideas for inexpensive dwellings, including micro apartments with kitchenettes, that could cheaply house the growing number of Portland’s working poor.
“Do I think the city of Portland BDS is going to let us do something like this? No,” Justus says.
Let me just state bluntly that I have a very hard time believing that Portland’s city government is the only governmental entity in the country that makes it harder for the poor to be able to put roofs over their heads.