Eye-popping affordable housing tower with 93 units reaches peak height in North Pearl, gets zany name.

COURTESY: INNOVATIVE HOUSING, JOSEPH GALLIVAN - A rendering of Vibrant! a 12-story affordable apartment building developed by Innovative Housing. The building welcomes homeless families and those earning 30 percent of the median area household income.

On Thursday, June 14, one more new apartment building met a milestone.

The people building tall office towers usually celebrate "topping out," but rarely do apartment buildings garner such a fuss. Topping out marks the point in construction where the highest point has been reached. It is often celebrated with workers signing the top girder and sometimes an evergreen tree is hauled to the top for a photo op, reminiscent of old Scandinavian tradition of keeping evil spirits away.

In the case of the 12-story building going up at Northwest 14th Avenue and Raleigh Street, within a few yards of the Fremont Bridge, the developer, construction company and architects celebrated the installation of the highest piece of concrete — the elevator overrun — with a short speech, children running around and a modest spread from the Nicholas restaurant.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The view northeast to the Fremont Bridge from the 12th floor of Vibrant! at Northwest Raleigh Street and 14th Avenue. The affordable housing complex topped out in June and will open in spring 2019.

Sarah Stevenson, executive director at Innovative Housing (IH), the nonprofit affordable housing developer, also revealed the building's name.

It's Vibrant!

Not The Vibrant. And not The Vibrant!

But, Vibrant!

PHOTO: DESMOND EVANS AT BREMIK - The view northeast to the Fremont Bridge as concrete is poured for one of the higher floors.


"If you look up the definition of vibrant, the first that pops up on the internet is something pulsating with life," she told the Business Tribune. "We feel that when resident families come here this building is going to be full of life. The second definition is a resonant voice, and part of our job we feel is to give our residents a voice and help them use their housing as a place to bounce off and be successful and be active in other parts of their lives."

The third explains the orange metal siding that has appeared in the last few months.

"The third was a brilliant color, such as orange. We have some tilted orange bays that are iconic. We had to fight for them through design review, and we held our ground because we really wanted this building to look and feel different, and just kind of pop."

Pop it already does, in this cluster of new affordable housing apartment buildings. Its immediate neighbors are the Abigail and the Ramona. The orange and the angles certainly stand out among the retro brickwork and faux leading docks.

COURTESY:  JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The view from the roof of Vibrant! takes in new buildings in the North Pearl. Sarah Stevenson, executive director at Innovative Housing, joked that the views are great, until they're taken by another tall building.

The 93 units at Vibrant! will be even more affordable. In the official language, "Forty of the units will be reserved for formerly homeless individuals and families, while the remaining 53 units will be available to those earning between 30 and 60 percent of Portland's Median Family Income."

Here to learn

The building will have an indoor-outdoor playroom, a study area, a bike lobby with a washing station, and a lot of places for gathering, including a rooftop deck for barbecues and additional outdoor space. "The views from the 12th floor will be pretty amazing," says Stevenson. But this affordable housing developer is taking a keen interest in what goes on inside the building more than how it looks.

IH has its own resident services program and can put on classes. It also partners with organizations that can teach about clean energy, arts, gardening, fitness and mindfulness. Residents in IH buildings have learned taekwondo, financial literacy and job hunting skills.

COURTESY: INNOVATIVE HOUSING - A rendering of Vibrant! a 12-story affordable apartment building developed by Innovative Housing.

"We try to respond to the needs of residents. This is going to be a very family-oriented building. There'll probably be a lot of after school, homework help and youth activities," she says. "We'll probably do summer lunches here, for adults we'll do financial education, bring partners in to do resume writing, career exploration." There's even a link to the current go-to path out of poverty: a trade. "We're developing partnerships with three apprenticeships in construction trade programs that I think we'd like to offer here to help low income people get into the construction trades and into really high paying jobs."

There will only be 15 parking spaces at the ground level, and 155 short-term bicycle spaces.

Stevenson says initially Vibrant! was going to be a six-story building, not 12.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP:  JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Party goers on the roof of Vibrant! at the topping out ceremony, where the construction reaches its higest point.

Here comes the neighborhood association

"We started out with a much smaller building. We proposed a five-over-one because that's a pretty good economic development model. But then the neighborhood association and the land use committee in particular came and said they'd like to see us go higher. The city agreed we should maximize the space here because it's such a great location. They gave us additional funding and we went taller. So really it was the neighborhood association's idea."

The vibrant orange comes from 12 inch wide metal panels, installed vertically.

The initial proposal read, "Oriel windows, projecting over the right-of-way, are highlighted by the two tones of orange metal panel proposed. Other materials include storefront glazing and brick at the ground floor, as well as vinyl windows at the residential units."

The Design Commission expressed reservations about the building, as it related to the "Design Coherency Guideline" stating that "with a small footprint, (a quarter block) there too many large moves and competing elements." The Design Commission asked for the lower oriel to be moved up from levels five and six to levels eight and nine to create a singular oriel, and some tinkering with the patter, and colors. That didn't happen.

COURTESY: INNOVATIVE HOUSING, JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The view southeast from the 12th floor of Vibrant! at Northwest Raleigh Street and 14th Avenue. Vibrant! occupies a quarter block. It will have 93 apartments and 15 parking spaces. In the lower left is The Abigail.

How to get one

IH does not choose who gets those 40 units that are reserved for homeless families. They will be referred by Multnomah County's Continuum of Care. Preleasing will take place in late fall 2018 with the building opening in the spring of 2019.

"This time next year we hope to have it full, with 93 families," says Stevenson. So how can a family currently living in a motel, a shelter, a friend's couch or in their car improve their chances of getting a spot?

"Get in touch with the joint office of homeless services at Multnomah County, because they manage the list. You have to be on the county's list in order to be referred for affordable housing. There's already a list."

People can contact different service providers such as TPI, JOIN and Human Solutions.

"There are a lot of great organizations that have referral access to and from that list. If you have a service provider talk to them."

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The checkerboard siding is part of the Vibrant! look.

Concrete answers

The designers are Salazar Architect and LRS Architects and the construction company Bremik Construction.

Stevenson added, "We have never done anything quite this tall, so it's a different development process for us. But it's gone really smoothly, thanks to our architects and our contractor it's been a great experience."

Desmond Evans has been the Bremik's concrete superintendent on Vibrant!

He said it's a fairly standard post tension concrete plate building. One difference was the "eyebrow" on the south and west faces of the building — places where the floor plate juts out into the street, forming the oriels.

"Every other floor the concrete sticks out farther, and twists in the middle. The sheet metal guys had to follow that. It was about getting the edge right, making sure the whole side of the building lines up."

COURTESY: INNOVATIVE HOUSING - The orange oriels which the design commission wanted moved up so they didnt look so striking. The developers held out and got their way.

Another unique feature of Vibrant! is the 35,000 gallon fiberglass water tank under the building. It's for the fire suppression system. Because the building is at the end of the line of the main water feed in the Pearl, they needed to guarantee there would be enough water to put out a big fire. Without the tank, the water pressure might be low because it's at the end of the line or using the system might deplete the water pressure in surrounding buildings.

"If our building dumped and (the sprinklers) all came on it would shut down all buildings around about," Evan says.

The tank is round, 50 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. "We buried it in concrete. But there are hatches if you need to get into it."

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP:  JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Orange is the key color at Vibrant!

The orange metal panels he says really set the building apart — especially if you are driving on the 405.

Topping out doesn't change the schedule. "It's all scheduled from start to finish, it's like doing Lego, things just follow each other."

Evans works for Bremik's self-perform concrete arm, MB Structures. Bremik also does windows, finish work, siding and wood framing. They use plenty of subs too, such as "waterproofers, metal stud framers, drywallers, glass guys, elevator guys..."

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The view south from the 12th floor of Vibrant! at Northwest Raleigh Street and 14th Avenue.

Being done by next spring is "a good pace, for us. We're doing well. There are others who do it faster, but we're trying to focus on quality, to make sure give the client exactly what they want."

He says there are different ways to go after a project. "The big generals go after schedule, they say they'll get it done six months earlier so you'll get six months more rent. But we're about quality."

Evans says his job there is done, now that Vibrant! Has topped out.

"I just pour the concrete, and I'm going off to Gresham East and North elementary schools now. Same thing, pouring concrete."

COURTESY: INNOVATIVE HOUSING - A rendering of Vibrant! a 12-story affordable apartment building developed by Innovative Housing. The building welcomes homeless families and those earning 30 percent of the median area household income.

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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