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City loan plugs gap in housing complex.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

The Eugene City Council on Monday approved a $450,000 loan to give a key boost to a downtown apartment project.

The city loan will help plug a financing gap that has led to a delay in the start of the proposed WestTown on Eighth apartment complex, next to the WOW Hall.

"I look forward to getting this project moving so we can have more people living downtown," said Councilor Andrea Ortiz.

WestTown's developer, Eugene-based Metropolitan Affordable Housing Corp., plans to build 102 apartments for low- to moderate-income residents. Rents would range from $478 a month for a studio apartment to $738 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The complex also would house nine market-rate combination residential-commercial spaces fronting West Eighth Avenue that tenants would use as working and living spaces.

The complex is expected to cost $18.4 million, but Metropolitan Affordable Housing had only $17.7 million in approved financing, leaving a $750,000 funding gap.

Metropolitan expects to plug the rest of the gap through a $300,000 loan from Eugene-based LibertyBank, then pay off that debt by seeking grants from nonprofit groups and individuals, said Richard Herman, executive director of Metropolitan Affordable Housing.

"We're very pleased" by the council action, Herman said. "This is not only important for affordable downtown housing, but it's also important for economic development downtown."

Construction was to begin in March, but design changes and higher-than-expected construction costs led Metropolitan Affordable Housing to delay the groundbreaking.

Work is now expected to start on Dec. 15.

The city will use various city financial sources for the loan: $235,000 from a fund that buys affordable housing sites, $135,000 from a property tax exemption program, and $80,000 from a downtown loan fund.

Similar to other affordable housing projects, WestTown is to be heavily subsidized by the state and city. The state of Oregon, for example, is providing tax credits to the developer. The city already has agreed to give the developer $1 million in federal housing funds; the land, valued at $570,000 when transferred last year; $210,000 in development charge waivers; and 20 years of property tax breaks.

Councilors voted 7-0 to approve the loan to Metropolitan Affording Housing. Councilor Gary Pape did not vote because he is a shareholder in LibertyBank's holding company.

The council approved the loan during an early evening work session. Later, councilors heard a Eugene rental property owner criticize WestTown on Eighth as extravagant.

Bob Suess figured that it would cost $180,000 to build each of the rental units. "Do you really need a Taj Mahal for subsidized housing?" he said.

In other matters, the council agreed that improving Belt Line Road from River Road to Coburg Road should be the city's top priority for seeking state funds. The need to improve the heavily congested corridor rose to the top of the city's list after the city and state together killed the proposed West Eugene Parkway this summer.

Councilors also agreed that the West 11th Avenue corridor should be studied as the city's next possible bus rapid transit route. Councilors debated whether they should support studying West 11th Avenue or, at the suggestion of Councilor Bonny Bettman, also have engineers study bus rapid transit service on Highway 99.

Passenger figures from Lane Transit District show that West 11th has more riders than Highway 99. "Put your money where your customers are," Councilor Chris Pryor said.

Bettman said officials couldn't make the best decision without also studying Highway 99 as an express bus corridor.

"This is putting the cart before the horse," she said.

Councilors voted 6-2 to direct city engineers to work with LTD and University of Oregon faculty on the West 11th Avenue study. LTD's first bus rapid transit route, from downtown Eugene to downtown Springfield, is to open in the next few months, and LTD is planning the second leg to run from downtown Springfield to Gateway.
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Title Annotation:Government; City councilors increase aid by $450,000 for apartments and retail space downtown
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2006
Words:658
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