At first glance, the Buri Building in the Hazelwood neighborhood looks like an ideal way to house some of the thousands of people living in tent camps around Portland.
Taxpayer money helped erect the Buri, named for late tenant rights advocate Justin Buri. The developer, a nonprofit called Northwest Housing Alternatives, used a tax-exempt bond program and low-income housing tax credits to finance construction and got public money from an alphabet soup of sources, including $175,000 from Metro, the regional government, that’s earmarked for buildings near mass transit.
Less than 3 years old, the $28.4 million low-income apartment complex has a pitched roof and dashes of orange on the exterior. There’s a courtyard where a walkway snakes through perennials and trees. Inside, the hallways are long and bright. Warhol-sized abstract paintings grace the elevator landings on all four floors.
“I thought I was moving into Shangri-La,” says Ringo Jones, 55.
But spend some time talking to residents and another picture emerges.
“It’s like living in hell here,” says Allen Lumsden, 45.
Tenants let homeless friends in from the street who shoot up in the stairways, sleep on couches in common areas, smoke fentanyl in the elevators, and vandalize plumbing. They pound and pry at residents’ doors. People defecate in the stairways (this reporter observed an impressive log that had been sitting for hours).
The elevators are often broken, making it difficult for tenants who use mobility scooters to get around. When WW visited, the down button on the fourth floor had been pried off and left on the floor. Lately, a woman from the street has been roaming the halls with a hatchet, tenants say.
A log of emergency calls confirms the conditions. In 2022 alone, police, fire and medical personnel have responded to six calls about stabbings, 17 for assault, four about shots fired, seven for vandalism, eight on restraining order violations, and one labeled “death–obvious–cold/stiff.”
The building’s management company doesn’t respond, Lumsden and others say. There is no one to call after 5 pm or on weekends, even in emergencies.
That a brand-new building could descend into chaos so quickly raises tough questions as Portland and Multnomah County spend hundreds of millions in new tax money on housing. If local leaders spend the money to build it, they must find capable contractors to manage it, both to protect the residents and the physical plant.
That’s not easy these days, says Margaret Van Vliet, former director of both Oregon Housing and Community Services and the Portland Housing Bureau. Low-income properties often serve people with very special needs, and that takes personnel.
Money is plentiful thanks to bond measures that have raised millions and a Metro tax on high earners that is expected to raise $250 million a year for housing and services. The problem is finding firms that are willing and qualified to manage properties that house difficult populations once the buildings go up.
“To be compassionate as a society, we have to house people who don’t always make good tenants when they first land an apartment,” Van Vliet says. “It’s a difficult, unattractive business for some property management companies.”
The Buri raised money for its 2020 construction through the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program and the state’s Local Innovation and Fast Track program. It tapped the transit money from Metro and added a dollop for design from the Oregon Multifamily Energy Program.
Anyone who makes 60% or less of the median income in Multnomah County, or about $68,000 for a family of four, can apply to live in the Buri.
The owner, according to property records, is Gateway Hermiston Affordable Housing GP LLC, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Gateway, in turn, is controlled by Northwest Housing Alternatives.
On its website, NHA calls itself “the leading not-for-profit developer of affordable housing in Oregon,” building apartments for people earning less than $16,000 a year. (Trell Anderson, CEO of the nonprofit, was paid $149,829 in 2021, according to NHA tax filings.)
“We are aware of—and have been concerned about—the decline of the Buri Building in recent months,” NHA spokeswoman Ariane Le Chevallier said in a statement. “We have been working closely with the property management team to stabilize the building, and have taken concrete steps to improve the security, staffing and management.”
NHA doesn’t manage the building itself. Instead, it contracts with a for-profit company called Cascade Management, run by a couple named Dave and Tiffany Bachman.
NHA wouldn’t provide WW with a copy of its contract with Cascade.
Dave Bachman has worked at Cascade Management since 1993, when he graduated from Western Oregon University with a bachelor’s degree in management consulting, according to his LinkedIn profile. In addition to running Cascade Management, Bachman is an executive at Cascade Capital Advisors, “a real estate investment advisory and asset management firm for institutional clients and high net worth individuals seeking opportunities in the real estate market in the Pacific Northwest, with the goal of creating superior risk-adjusted returns.”
Translation: Bachman invests money for rich people in housing, much of it for poor people, which he manages. Cascade has 11,000 units in 250 different developments, according to the Cascade Capital Advisors website. It has 11 portfolio managers and 500 employees.
The Bachmans, who live in a $1.9 million house with a vineyard in Sherwood, blame the Buri’s woes on Portland.
“The concerns addressed at the Buri Building and many other surrounding metro properties are unfortunately not new or exclusive,” Tiffany Bachman said in a statement. “There have been systemic issues in the immediate neighborhood, and Portland in general, that management and ownership have recognized and developed a new plan for how to operate in these challenging times, post-pandemic.”
One tenant who is especially ready for change is Chau Nguyen. She lives in unit 414, a one-bedroom, with her boyfriend and two children, 5 and 20 months. Nguyen pays her $975 rent with Social Security disability payments she gets because she has a learning disability.
In April, Nguyen got into the elevator with her kids and smelled something strange. Back in their apartment, she became dizzy and her head hurt. The kids threw up.
“I took them to hospital, and the doctor said they had been exposed to fentanyl,” Nguyen, 40, says. “All three of us got sick.”
Making matters worse, Nguyen took in a malnourished dog named Babe who had been chained to the gate to the Buri’s courtyard. She took it to a Banfield Pet Hospital, got it spayed and had its teeth cleaned. She’s paying the bill in monthly installments of $108, she says.
Soon after, a homeless woman from the neighborhood confronted her, saying Babe was hers. The woman attacked Nguyen, pulling her hair. Nguyen got a temporary stalking protective order on April 19, court records show, which she sent to Cascade. Regardless, the woman is still at large in the Buri, Nguyen says. In May, she roamed the halls with a hatchet.
“She walks in like she owns the place,” Nguyen says. “Why am I paying rent, and this chick is still harassing me? This building is not a place to live. They don’t even pick up the phone.”
NHA pledges changes. Among other things, spokeswoman Le Chevallier says NHA has hired a new security company for the Buri and a new on-site manager, and has upgraded the electronic key system and hallway cameras.
But last weekend was just like any other, says Lumsden, who lives in unit 424. Someone lit the bark chips in the courtyard on fire Saturday night, and the fire bureau had to come twice. Both elevators broke Sunday and were out of service from 4 am to 3 pm. The exterior doors opened without a fob for much of weekend, and Lumsden passed someone smoking fentanyl in the fourth-floor hallway Sunday morning.
Many of the tenants at the Buri are elderly, and several of them say they spend most of their time in their apartments because they’re afraid to go into the halls.
“All of the homeless people who come in scare us,” says Bonnie Bryant, 72. She pays $929 for a cramped studio. That amount had just gone up from $885 in May.
“They said they raised the rent to make things better,” Bryant says.