College Housing Northwest makes student housing more affordable
Studio apartments will rent for 15 percent below market rate
People studying at Portland State University will soon feel a little relief from the tight downtown housing market.
Construction has begun on The Amy, a 141-unit building meant to provide more affordable and supportive housing for PSU students.
At the foot of Portland's Southwest Hills, this five-floor building covers a half block site with 75,000 square feet of independent student housing, including 141 studio units, 32 parking spaces, 230 bike parking spaces and 3,000 square feet of community space.
Dave Garnand, executive director of CHNW, was a practicing architect in Oregon and California for 17 years before taking this job. He also was CEO of iComprehend, then COO for Galois, both Portland-based computer science companies. Garnand served for 20 years on the board for nonprofit Joy Fund, bringing dental care to underserved children.
"We have to build the building, manage it, operate it, pay all financing costs and still our target is 15 percent below market rate," Garnand said. "As a 501(c)(3), we don't pay taxes. All that nontaxed money goes directly to lowering rates and making sure there's enough people who we're supporting."
Garnand set the bar for affordability at least 15 percent less than comparable units. It's not affordable housing by the city's technical definition, but it is more affordable than renting market-rate.
"We're really careful with ours to make it on par with comparable units," Garnand said. "Our higher goal is to figure out how to be even more affordable than that."
College Housing Northwest (CHNW) was founded in 1968 by Stan Amy, the co-founder of New Seasons, while he was earning his master's degree in urban planning at PSU.
"Back then it was the only housing for PSU," said Garnand. "The organization grew to manage all the housing for PSU, and PSU grew up and became the biggest university in the state. CHNW continued on with housing in downtown Portland, Goose Hollow and in Corvallis at OSU."
In Goose Hollow, CHNW has 345 units, and in Corvallis 231, where CHNW redeveloped one of OSU's buildings, The Gem.
"It was an old building. We did a complete redevelopment, financed the whole thing, did work transparently to them — but we do everything," Garnand said. "It's on a 30-year agreement: after 30 years, it will revert back to (OSU)."
Oregon State University ground-leased land to CHNW for 30 years, and CHNW financed a renovation of the former hotel that was located on that land, turning it into student apartments. CHNW owns and operates The Gem on behalf of OSU until the 30 year contract runs up, after which the building reverts back to OSU.
The Amy is planned to be 141 units, replacing the 30-unit 1960s building, the Clifton House.
"The bulk (of our portfolio) is buildings that we outright own, whether we bought or built them," Garnand said. "We built the vast majority ourselves, and a couple smaller ones we acquired."
CHNW privately owns its five old, small buildings surrounding PSU.
"We have a really close working relationship with them (PSU)," Garnand said. "We communicate with them what we're up to and what our plans are, and all our student affairs and services are connected to each other ... so we're in complete sync with them."
CHNW has provided student housing for more than 45 years, with a portfolio of 725 apartment units in Portland and Corvallis.
Garnand came to CHNW in 2010, first working in operations to realign and strengthen the nonprofit's mission.
"Once I really felt like we got that under the road, I looked at opportunities where we could expand," Garnand said. "In simplest terms to me, trying to think like a 20-year-old, the primary thing is the most inexpensive thing I can get compared to anything in its market."
Garnand incorporates amenities for students based on his own experiences trying to find housing while studying at the University of Oregon.
"We provide a certain amount of services we feel build a strong community, so while you're in school you're in a stable environment," Garnand said. "We take really good care of our buildings as well — we do maintenance, we try to keep them as clean as possible."
Garnand earned his architecture degree from UO, where he lived in Bean Hall in the Caswell wing.
"I lived in the dorms the first year, and then kind of meager, crummy apartments after that — always with as many people as we could possibly squeeze in," Garnand said. "One summer, we lived in a three-bedroom apartment with eight people in it all summer."
Later, he found a six-bedroom house along 19th and Agate Streets south of campus, where he lived with seven other people. To this day, that's pretty normal for the 20-year-old philosophy: the more roommates you can split rent between, the cheaper the cost of living is.
"We are not going to be involved in anything unless we can provide some degree of being below market rate," Garnand said.
CHNW's plans go above and beyond, knowing that colleges want freshmen in the dorms the first year.
"Schools want you in the dorms your first year, and they even go beyond that now," Garnand said. "They especially believe if you are surrounded by other students with the support you need, those students are more successful," Garnand said. "My staff is so dedicated to carry that model to the next level and make sure there's the kind of support and community that gives people the ability to complete college and go all the way through."
Renting at The Amy
Rent for a furnished studio near PSU averages around $1,689 including utilities and internet, according to The Scion Group's February market analysis this year.
"If your housing is way out in the (West) Hills or Gresham and you're trying to commute on the train, on the MAX, or you're dealing with a slumlord not taking care of your building, all those things are a distraction," Garnand said. "Our idea is to be close-in near school and provide a community where you're like 'School is stressful enough, these guys are saving me some money and taking care of things and I feel supported.'"
The Amy will have Resident Assistants on call 24/7 who are taught to handle complex situations, similar to dormitory RAs, but more along the lines of a building manager. Leasing agents walk tenants (often renting for the first time) through the agreements.
"We have multiple common areas, multiple places you can hang out or cook something," Garnand said. "Each room has its own kitchenette. No stove, but a microwave, sink and cupboards. Right down the hall or one floor up or down, you'll be able to go cook a turkey in the oven and cook on a bigger scale."
There are three common kitchens with lounges, and included high-speed Wifi.
"College is already too expensive and adding to that price is the high cost of renting an apartment. CHNW is really excited to be able to provide additional housing for students near campus," Garnand said. "We feel strongly that students need more affordable options downtown."
2031 S.W. 10th Ave.
District: Southwest Hills
Cost: $20 million
Owner: College Housing Northwest
Developer: Mainland Northwest, LLC
Designer: SERA Architects
Contractor: Pavilion Construction
Underwriter: RBC Capital Markets