"Nobody who is willing to do this kind of Mother Teresa-type work should have to live in a car or a tent or anyplace like that," Jeff Carr, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Albertina Kerr Centers said Wednesday in a virtual groundbreaking for 150 low-income housing units.
Carr was stricken by the fact that some of the low-paid workers at Kerr and other organizations who do the difficult work of caring for folks with disabilities were struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Some were even homeless. Their stories inspired Carr to build 150 units of affordable housing on Kerr's Gresham campus. Kerr serves people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities both as outpatients and residents in Kerr housing.
"If we don't have a stable workforce, we don't have a mission," Carr said in the Wednesday, Feb. 17, online groundbreaking.
Shannon McDaniel, a Kerr caregiver, said "as a direct support professional who is currently homeless, this housing will mean the world to me and my family."
Carr said Kerr has raised employee pay 50% in five years, but it is not enough to keep up with the steep increases in rent.
Albertina Kerr's new housing will be a four-story, 96,816-square-foot structure with homes ranging in size from studios to three bedrooms.
Thirty of the units will be priced for folks making 30% of the Area Median Income or about $26,400 for a family of four. Another 102 units will be for families earning 60% of the AMI or about $52,740 for a family of four. And, 15 units will be for families making 80% of the AMI, or about $70,320 income for a family of four.
Thirty of these units will be targeted for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Carr described some innovations to make the apartments work for folks with a variety of disabilities, even sound and light alterations for those who have sensory issues.
The housing will be open to anyone who meets the income criteria, not just Kerr employees.
The units will be built at Kerr's Gresham campus at Northeast 162nd Avenue between Glisan and Halsey streets.
The project will also be a "net zero" project with a solar array and energy saving features.
Carr figures the building will produce 9.2% more energy than it will use and will be the largest net zero affordable housing project in the Northwest and fourth or fifth largest in the country.
Those savings will be passed to the tenants.
Caregiver McDaniel said "not having to worry about your lights getting turned off … would be wonderful"
Albertina Kerr received $12.3 million from the Metro housing bond voters passed in 2018. The nonprofit also raised more than $1 million in private funds to help pay for the new homes.
The historic Wynne Watts School on the campus has already been demolished to make way for the new housing, which should be ready for tenants in spring of 2022. The school, which opened in 1936, was at the corner of the campus at 930 N.E. 162nd Ave.
Carr, who has been Albertina Kerr's CEO since 2016, has experience with unhoused people and unaffordable rents. He was chief of staff for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was mayor from 2005 to 2013.
The online groundbreaking also featured a bevy of dignitaries.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said that she "deeply welcomed" the project and called the caregivers "the backbone of our social safety net."
Kerr caregiver, Laura Ames-Boyd said "to know that Albertina Kerr is building housing to provide for the people who are taking care of the most vulnerable people, it's amazing."
Calling Kerr employees superheroes, Carr choked up when talking about their struggles, noting that they are caring for the most vulnerable people in society and "our society does not value this work."
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