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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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ROCKWOOD NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION

TOGETHER WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

18162 East Burnside

Portland, OR  97233

Phone and FAX:  503-666-2776

 

 

Roger N. Meyer, President                                                        Alvaro Gongora, Vice President

Bryan Skibba, Secretary/Treasurer              

 

Roger Meyer, Chair, Land Use Committee

 

February 7, 2005                                                                                                   RE:  Issues, Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity

 

Erik Kvarsten

City Manager

City of Gresham

1333 NW Eastman Parkway

Gresham, OR  97030

 

Dear Erik,

 

As promised, here is a list of concerns regarding Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity.  I am pleased that the city intends to meet in high-level policy discussion(s) with the Habitat Board of Directors.

 

This letter is divided into two parts.  The first part proposes policy.  The second part is a proposed checklist for city policy-makers with details that should be considered before the city engages in further partnership arrangements with Habitat.

 

Policy

 

I propose owner/resident satisfaction as the primary measure against which the success of any city assistance to Habitat should be gauged.  In this case, we're talking about low cost, first-time owner, common-wall condominium construction, with Habitat as developer/builder/lender.  The city stands in a unique role as underwriter of the cost of land, and further, as issuer of shared appreciation mortgages to condominium owners.  That role involves many responsibilities which individual city departments cannot address singly or collectively.  Furthermore, the one thing that individual city departments can't do, because of building code, ordinance limitations, and jurisdictional fire walls is to make certain decisions affecting the ultimate end users -- Habitat as the declarant, and individual owners as occupants and members of a separate corporate entity -- to determine, on a policy level, whether a given development is a good one or a bad one.  That overview is the responsibility of the elected leaders -- the Council -- and its appointed employees, the City Manager and the City Attorney, with advice from citizen committees and the city's commissions.

 

Determination of owner satisfaction can be made by conducting independent polling, owner completion of questionnaires, and facilitation of meetings of present owners for the purpose of providing city policy makers with unbiased, non self-serving unfiltered information.

 

Habitat owners are not run-of-the-mill home owners.  They are vulnerable but solid individuals requiring special "up front" training to assure the long-term success of their home occupancy.  What further differentiates Habitat's owners from other home owners from their same background is that they've signed up with a program, not just a realtor.  They've been vetted, screened, and evaluated for certain characteristics that would make them good co-owners in a condominium setup.  The city must require of Habitat that it provide proof, not mere assurances, that individual owners and the HOA board, composed primarily of owner/occupants of each development, have received training and understand corporation board conduct and responsibilities outlined in Chapter 100 Condominium law.

 

The partnership between the city and Habitat thus extends beyond ordinary city department/developer-builder relationships.

 

First, the purpose of this partnership is public-policy driven.  It  satisfies Gresham's Five-Year Consolidated Plan objectives of assuring development and maintenance of affordable low income owner-occupied housing.  Numbers

 

of units, numbers of families served, costs, and compliance with codes and ordinances are important, but looking only at these "input" figures does not assure the city or the developer of a truly satisfactory outcome for these new owners and their neighborhoods, either in the short run or the long run.

 

Second, city policy-makers have a unique public policy interest in neighborhood quality of life.  That interest extends beyond the interest and the existence of any developer/builder, whether partnership is involved or not.  Neighborhoods are here to stay.  Generally, they do not "disappear."  Developers come and go.  Because of the city's public interest in neighborhood building and preservation, Habitat has the responsibility of presenting a comprehensive market survey, demonstrating the long-term HOA corporation financial soundness of its development proposals, as well as assuring the city that safe transportation, in-place public infrastructure, convenient, affordable shopping, medical and social services, and crime and public safety statistics that induce private, for-profit developers to invest in the same immediate area.  With the limited amount of public dollars available through HUD CDBG and HOME funds, it is imperative that the city invest its money wisely in sound projects.

 

The reason why resident satisfaction must guide the city's involvement is because condominium developments are, by their very nature, turn-key operations.  Once built and occupied, the developer/builder must walk away, even if the builder/developer is also the lender.  Condominium law (Chapter 100, ORS) and the state's insurance regulations require such a separation.  Since the city and Habitat remain lenders during the life of their zero-interest mortgages, it is to both parties' benefit to see that their mortgagees remain satisfied with their housing as well as good performers financially.

 

The housing itself is a long-term investment, whose useful life will extend beyond ownership of the first occupying parties.  Because of the city's investment, it is critical that wide-ranging policy discussions regarding partnership with Habitat include matters beyond up-front, one-time financial assistance to cover the cost of land.  If the land itself is considered "undevelopable" by other developers and builders, the wisdom of the city's investment must be informed by the same considerations that other investors in housing projects exercise.  The city's own employees and its departments simply do not have the kind of experience in matters of this nature to competently advise its policy-makers.  The presence of the city's contract Real Estate consultant in such discussions is strongly recommended.  Experienced, disinterested private market mortgage bankers should also be consulted as city policymakers weigh the wisdom of city investments of the kind it has made in Habitat's past and current undertakings.  There is no substitute for practical, hands-on advice and experience of this kind.  Failing to involve disinterested expertise of this kind leaves city policy makers "flying blind."

 

"The List"

 

City policy-makers and Habitat resident/owners' satisfaction concerns must, as a minimum, involve the following elements:

 

Each of the above measures, had they been in place prior to the City of Gresham's involvement with Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity, would have gone a long way to address owner/Habitat problems now being experienced at Habitat's first completed project on SE 188th Avenue.

 

Thank you for the opportunity you will be providing the Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors to directly engage top-level City of Gresham public policy makers.  I am grateful for the opportunity you've provided me to outline the concerns that have driven the Rockwood Neighborhood Association's involvement in these matters.

 

Presented to the City of Gresham for and on behalf of the Rockwood Neighborhood Association

 

 

ROGER N. MEYER

President, Rockwood Neighborhood Association

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

 

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