Tag: Anna Mackay

SRO Housing Delayed when Needed Most

A development in Montavilla, could add 11 new Single Room Occupancy units to NE Glisan. This would be Guerrilla Development’s second project in the area. They are wrapping up construction on their first building named Rocket Empire Machine. The new two story building is called Jolene’s Second Cousin and is adjacent to Rocket Empire Machine, at 6935 NE Glisan Street. The property, that both projects currently share, will be split before construction begins.

Image courtesy of Brett Schulz Architect

Building permits for Jolene’s Second Cousin have already been approved. Guerrilla Development has lined up the same contractors that worked on Rocket Empire Machine, to start work on this new building. However, “the project is on hold due to uncertainty around Covid-19.” Said Anna Mackay, Director of Development at Guerrilla Development. The delay could be short, with construction starting in Summer or Fall. Unfortunately, the delay could be longer and no timetable has been decided.

Portland once had a healthy inventory of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) apartments. They served reduced income residents and kept many people in housing, that otherwise would have lived on the streets. Over the last fifty years, that inventory of affordable rental options has been in decline.

Single Room Occupancy housing is structured similarly to a dormitory. Each resident has a furnished one room apartments. Tenants share a common kitchen, shower, and toilet. Some variation on SRO layouts could have a toilet, sink, or mini-fridge in the room.

This type of affordable housing may soon be in high demand, due to the fallout from our statewide shutdown. Six months after the Eviction Moratorium order ends, people are expected to pay their back rent. That could start a wave of evictions for those that do not have savings to cover the unpaid rent.

Before our current economic troubles, Portland had identified SRO housing as a way to keep people housed as rental rates climb. However the number of SRO apartments in Portland has not yet satisfied the pre-pandemic housing needs. Six months from now we may have less SRO options, not more. The Westwind Apartments project, downtown, is a seven story building offering 72 SRO units and 28 studio apartments. All units will support low income residents or people transitioning off the streets. It is replacing a three story building that currently offers affordable housing. When completed, this project should help many Potlanders gain access to housing. However, when the building is demolished to make way for its replacement, there will be even less affordable units to rent in Portland.

There is a an established need for projects like Jolene’s Second Cousin, and we need them built in the next six months, to meet the predicted demand. We also need more of them, spread throughout the city. Jolene’s Second Cousin picked an ideal scale for the project, insuring it fits in the neighborhood without dominating the area. Large towers like the Westwind Apartments do not always work out well for the residents. Historically, housing many low income people together has not been successful for other cities. Low income housing, mixed within the community, has worked well in the past and could do so again.

Montavilla once had SRO housing right in the center of town. In an interview of Dianne Dixon-Lawrence, she talks about the history of Dickson Drugs and the SRO units on the second floor. Dickson Drugs was located on the corner of 80th and SE Stark. The same space that once housed the Country Cat and will soon be the home of Lazy Susan restaurant. In the interview, she tells the story of the 1961 remodel that ultimately removed the SRO units. Those SRO units had occupied all of the second floor above Dickson Drugs. She said that in the 1960’s, the city had begun to require parking for each apartment. That change made it difficult to creat low cost housing in many places, and impossible for the space above Dickson Drugs. Dixon-Lawrence went on to say that the city later reversed that decision but by then, it no longer was cost effective to add the SRO units back.

It would be helpful to Portland, and Montavilla, if Jolene’s Second Cousin can start construction soon. The housing will be desperately needed and perhaps that can help alleviate some of the uncertainty around building it. However, 11 SRO units are not enough. We will need more, and a community that will be accepting of SRO housing near them. Any hesitation for allowing low income housing in the area, needs to be balance by the notion that people are not going away. A person can live in an SRO next to our house or on the street in front of our house, but they are going to be our neighbor, one way or another. Let’s encourage attainable housing for all of our neighbors.

Rocket Ready for Launch

Rocket Empire Machine is moving ahead with its planned opening at 6935 NE Glisan Street. Four of the five available restaurant spaces are rented, and the fifth space has two prospective tenants looking at it. Exterior construction is near completion, with only the outdoor seating area reamining. Next week, they will turn over the spaces to the tenants and they can start their individual buildouts.

The scheduled opening of this project was uncertain. The effect of Oregon’s stay at home order has slowed down or canceled many retail developments across Portland. However, Rocket Empire Machine looks to have stayed on track. It achieved this by making a few key compromises with the tenants. As well as having an advantage due to the type of affordable retail spaces they offer. Restaurants within Rocket Empire Machine are “designed for takeout and delivery” said Anna Mackay, Director of Development at Guerrilla Development.

Mackay went on to explain that the design of the building should lend itself exceptionally well to post pandemic dining, even before the restrictions are lifted. The building is designed with separate kitchens that share common seating. Although the shared amenities are will remain available, takeout customers will likely be the most common patrons in the near future.

Image courtesy Guerrilla Development

Advantageous design alone was not enough to open this project. Three weeks ago Mackay met with the signed tenants to reaffirm their commitment to opening and seek ways to assist them. At that meeting, they agreed on lower rental rates and adopt a moratorium on collecting full rent, until Oregon’s restaurant restrictions have been lifted. Mackay said that the business owners knew the neighborhood was looking forward to their opening, and that influenced the commitment to continue with their plans.

Van Havig and Ben Love, of Gigantic Brewing Company, had already announced the opening of their Gigantic Satellite taproom at this location. In addition, Jessica Woods will be opening a second location of her Pie Spot bakery and cafe. Tierra Del Sol, by Amalia Sierra, is opening up this location to compliment their existing catering business. Khadro Abdi’s Alle Amin is relocating, from further up Glisan.

Alle Amin relocation, highlights the unique element of Rocket Empire Machine’s model. One space in the building is reserved for a recipient of a “non-displacement” benefit. The goal of this benefit is to ensure that local businesses are not forced out, as our area continues to improve. Recipient businesses will receive fixed rental rates that will allow for the business to grow. Khadro Abdi faced rent increases that jeopardized the viability of the restaurant. Relocating here, will ensure Alle Amin can continue to server the neighborhood, even as other rents increase.

With the Common spaces at Rocket Empire Machine nearing completion and tenants starting work on their space, expect to see increased activity at the site. If the tenants have smooth buildouts “we could see soft opening as soon as June.” Mackay said. That will still allow for many good weather days to drop in and pick up something from our new eatery options.