Wood Works
[Image: framework rendering]

PORTLAND - Think "subsidized housing" and the words "transformative" or "catalytic" likely won't spring to mind. Think again.

Head to Northwest 10th and Glisan in Portland's Pearl District. On the southeast corner, you'll see a one-story building on a parcel owned by the Beneficial State Bancorp and occupied by a branch of Albina Community Bank.

The building soon will be torn down and replaced by a 12-story high-rise called framework. Its first two floors will be home to the Bank and an exhibition area. Floors three through six will have commercial office space and the next five will have 60 subsidized apartments for families with incomes at or below 60 percent of area median income.

Those 60 apartments are a big deal. Portland's a boom town. High salaries have driven housing costs ever higher. That's left low- and moderate households with an ever-smaller inventory of housing they can afford. Those 60 units will go fast.

Particularly in The Pearl, the hottest neighborhood in town. It was gentrifying so rapidly in 201 that the City, Home Forward - the city's housing authority - and HUD launched an aggressive campaign to prevent the loss of some 1,000 units in HUD-subsidized properties converting to market-rate rents. Fortunately, they succeeded, preserving the units as part of the city's affordable housing inventory and protecting those 1,000 low-income households from being out on the street, looking a new place to call home..

"So," you ask, "what's so special about that?" Not much, unless you, consider the typical American high-rise. Since the first one rose in Chicago in 1885 they've virtually all been made of steel and concrete.

Not framework. It will be the very first high-rise in the United States made of wood using cross-laminated panels made by gluing together wooden boards at right angles to each other making them, say CLT proponents, as strong, sturdy and fire-resistant as steel. "Researchers at Portland State University and Oregon State University conducted seismic tests to validate the building's structural design," The Oregonian reported. "Other tests examined the building's ability to maintain its structure during a fire."

At a 2015 announcement that framework had won a $15 million Tall Wood Building Prize the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that CLT can "be used as a safe and sustainable alternative to concrete, masonry, and steel" while reducing "greenhouse gas emissions by storing" or trapping "carbon" from release into the atmosphere. A CLT building's carbon "footprint" can, in fact, can be up to 75 percent smaller a conventional steel-and-concrete building's. The Oregon State Building Codes Division okayed framework's permit to begin construction this fall.

A lot of people will be watching. Especially the more than half-million Americans - many of them Oregonians - who, like their parents and grandparents before them, have made their living in timber. Times have been tough for them the last decade or two with greater competition from other countries, an expanding regulatory oversight and, thanks to the Great Recession, a big fall-off in demand.

If wood works at the corner of Northwest 10th and Glisan, it's good news - very good news - for them. It already has been for D.R. Johnson Lumber of Riddle, some 220 miles south on Interstate 5 from Portland in, it says, the "heart of Oregon's timber country." It's the first certified CLT manufacturer in the U.S and its CLT panels will build framework.

Can CLT and framework do the same for rest of the industry? Absolutely, says Anyeley Hallova with the developer project. "On a national scale," framework will be "catalytic, leading to more tall wood buildings, driving more wood products and wood product innovation, and boosting rural economic development."

Words like "catalytic" or "transformative" or "innovative," it turns out, are as applicable to the subsidized housing sector as to any other in our economy. Why? Because in 21st century America there's a demand for the product far greater than the supply. Which means that in communities across the country there are people at work trying to build it faster and cheaper, safer and more sustainable, better and smarter.

Just like they are at the corner of Northwest 10th and Glisan in Portland, Oregon.