Sewer pipe scuttles Oregon AFL-CIO plan to turn HQ into worker housing

The Oregon AFL-CIO is pulling the plug on plans to redevelop its Portland headquarters as a mixed-use affordable housing project.

The plan, conceived last spring, was for union pension funds to finance a four- or five-story union-built project combining office space with underground parking and up to 120 units of affordable housing — helped by a public subsidy in the form of a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. The development was to replace the current headquarters on its 0.78-acre property just south of Powell Boulevard. The statewide labor federation formed a committee last June to explore the plan.

And it might have worked, except for one obstacle: The discovery of a 50-inch sewer pipe running diagonally across the property. That meant the development would have to consist of two smaller buildings instead of one large building, and at that point, maintaining enough parking to meet the needs of the Oregon AFL-CIO would have greatly increased project costs.

The Oregon AFL-CIO headquarters, known as the Oregon Labor Center, is a busy hub of activity, frequently used by union and community groups for meetings and events, and the parking made available by its 20,000-square-foot parking lot is vital to those uses.

With help from the Housing Development Center, a Portland nonprofit, the committee then explored the feasibility of partnering with the Portland Housing Bureau to bring in additional funding. But the Bureau is already developing a lot two blocks away where the Safari strip club now sits. The Bureau offered that the Oregon AFL-CIO could share space and ownership in that development, but it still would have fallen short of the labor federation’s parking needs. And it would have left the state federation in the position of junior partner in the development. As Oregon AFL-CIO president Tom Chamberlain put it: “We wouldn’t be masters of our own destiny.”

For all those reasons, the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Committee resolved April 21 to put the plan on ice.

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