Affordable housing project breaks ground on West Cascade

8 Jul

Ground has broken — big time — for the long-anticipated affordable housing project on West Cascade.

The official groundbreaking ceremony for the Hood River Crossing Apartments will be Aug. 3, but site prep continues just south of the Les  Schwab store.

It may take a village to raise a child, but “it takes a whole state to build one affordable housing project, it seems,” says Ruby Mason, executive director of the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority.

Mason also directs efforts of the affiliated nonprofit Columbia Cascade Housing, one of several partners in the project valued at just under $9 million. If all stays on track, the 40-unit apartment complex will be ready for residents in April 2011.

Funding collaborators on the project include Boston Capital Corp., which acquired $1.885 million in state tax credits; Wells Fargo, which offered construction financing; Oregon Housing and Community Services, and Hood River County. Mid-Columbia had to apply twice before being awarded the tax credits, which pushed back the project timeline about a year.

Luckenbill-Drayton & Associates of Redmond is managing the development. Mason says Dee Luckenbill and her team have developed over 3,000 units of affordable housing, much of it in Arizona and Colorado.

The county paid developer Doug Beveridge $713,000 for the 1.75 acres to help further what county administrator Dave Meriwether says has been a longtime priority for Hood River County. The county in late 2008 started down the road with Mid-Columbia Housing to request state tax credits, which would help keep rent rates low and protect investors.

Mason says Mid-Columbia doesn’t have the deep pockets that the private sector does. “The only way to make this project work was with a partnership,” she says.

With the real estate market heading south and obligated to pay only appraised value, Columbia Cascade Housing Corp. and Luckenbill-Drayton & Associates ended up paying a bargain $540,000 for the site.

“We offered them more, but the appraisal didn’t come in that high, and we can only pay appraised value,” Mason says.

It’s a little ironic that real estate prices have been dropping as this project moves forward to address a problem created by the rapid increase in home prices during the mid-2000s. Ruth Chausse, a Realtor with Don Nunamaker Realtors in Hood River, served on a county task force to address the issue of affordable housing. The need arose, she says, from a combination of factors.

“We had a big run on real estate. People were buying up less expensive homes and turning them into vacation rentals, which took them out of the affordable rental pool and out of the affordable housing purchase pool,” she says.

“That’s when this whole thing about dark neighborhoods came in. Maybe 100 apartments were converted to condos.”

She applauded Hood River County for having the foresight to acquire a site for which much of the permitting had already been done.

Carleton Hart Architecture of Portland prepared plans. After reviewing bidders, Luckenbill awarded the construction contract to Bogatay Construction Inc. of Klamath Falls. “Dee gave them extremely high marks, and they were very competitive in pricing,” Mason says. “Dick Russell, their superintendent, will be living in a fifth wheel mobile in Mosier for the duration.”

Mid-Columbia Housing hasn’t started taking applications for rentals. When it does, it will give first priority for 25 units to farm workers. If it doesn’t get enough applicants from the ag labor pool, it will open those units along with others to any other low-income applicants.

For this project, Meriwether says, potential tenants must earn no more than 80 percent of the median family income. In dollar terms, that’s $40,500 for a family of four.

The project will have a community garden, and common space for group meetings and computer use.

“We’re just really excited to be moving forward on it,” Mason says.

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