When the ribbon is cut to open the new Northwest Housing Alternatives campus on Aug. 20, the public will get to tour the rebuilt Annie Ross House family shelter, and see 28 units of permanent, affordable housing and the Opportunity Center, NHA's statewide headquarters building.
But for Trell Anderson, the executive director of NHA, the new campus is so much more than just buildings.
"What it says to people who are homeless or who need affordable housing, is that we see you and we recognize you. It offers dignity, love and acceptance."
Anderson also noted that he has been with NHA almost a year, replacing former executive director Martha McLennan, who retired after 16 years with the nonprofit.
"She had a vision," Anderson said, and she spent 10 years planning a new campus that would fit into the surrounding neighborhood.
McLennan is hoping to attend the ribbon cutting from 4-6 p.m. at the campus, 2316 S.E. Willard, in Milwaukie.
"I'm most proud of creating a home for the NHA team to continue and grow the work they do to provide homes for those in need in the community. This new campus will launch NHA to its next chapter," she said.
Northwest Housing Alternatives is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that provides a range of affordable housing options for families, seniors and people with disabilities; it also operates an emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness.
The statewide organization includes 1,907 affordable housing units in 101 properties in 16 Oregon counties.
The buildings at the Milwaukie site encompass three functions, Anderson said. First, Walsh Commons consists of 28 affordable housing units in three buildings. Features include laundry facilities, LED fixtures, patios and decks.
"The units are built to energy star platinum standards with energy-efficient windows and appliances, heavy insulation, and radiant heat units up high on the wall," Anderson said.
Next is the Annie Ross House shelter, which is a single building with eight furnished, family shelter units, each with private bathrooms and kitchenettes. The building also houses consultation rooms, laundry and storage facilities, a property-management office and a community room.
The third site, the Opportunity Center, will house NHA statewide headquarters, staff offices and a conference space.
"It was built to Net Zero energy standards, which means it will be producing as much energy as it is using. There is a large solar array on the roof which will generate all the energy the office needs, and on sunny days we will be selling energy back," Anderson said.
At the heart of the complex is a new outdoor playground, featuring a bright blue rope climbing structure and a rope swing.
The overall cost of the new campus was about $21 million, with funding coming from a variety of sources including grants, bonds, tax credits, capital campaign contributions and funds from the state and Clackamas County.
Families interested in renting the 28 new units at Walsh Commons may apply onsite or through Income Property Management, the company NHA hired to do the leasing, Anderson said.
There are general income requirements, but seven of the units are on a subsidized rent program through vouchers in partnership with the Housing Authority's section 8 program, Anderson said.
That means that those who qualify for this program would pay only 30% of their income in rent.
The Annie Ross House shelter is set up to house eight separate families with children who are experiencing homelessness.
"They are referred to us through Clackamas County's Coordinated Housing Access program," Anderson said.
He said families may spend around 90 days at the shelter before they get back on their feet, but different families go through different phases.
"Some need us for 30 days and others may need us for four or five months," Anderson said.
The current situation, with a lack of affordable housing in the metro area, could also lead to extended stays at the shelter, he noted.
The shelter has a large communal dining area, a community room, a children's playroom and a designated teen area with computer access.
"The whole idea here is to give people an opportunity for family time; to get out of fight or flight mode," Anderson said.
"I'm excited to offer this to families in transition. We want to give people a sense of belonging and community."
In addition to NHA state headquarters and staff offices, the Opportunity Center will offer resident services, which could include health and wellness consultations; cooking, parenting and money management classes; and individual assistance with issues like transportation.
"Our No. 1 job is eviction prevention. If there are any problems with residents and property management, we facilitate solutions," Anderson said.
There is an office dedicated to trauma-informed care, with trained caseworkers who start with the assumption that homeless families have experienced trauma. The office features an adjacent room with a glass wall, so that children can go into that area and play.
"The children feel safe, because they can see their parents, and the parents can see their kids" while talking to a caseworker, Anderson said. If privacy is needed, caseworkers can draw a curtain over the glass wall, he added.
"The fact that our offices are co-located with the family shelter and affordable housing provides our staff an opportunity every day to learn more about housing development in terms of how people use the apartments and community space," Anderson said.
Staff will also learn "how common and public space is used, how people interact and form community, and how to integrate supportive services - further informing our work to create opportunity through affordable housing communities."
Anderson added, "It's a learning environment for us, as well as our new home as a nonprofit community-based organization."
Anderson noted that Walsh Commons was named in honor of Bob Walsh, co-founder of Walsh Construction.
"He and his brother Tom started the construction company in the 1970s and they began building affordable housing all over the state through HUD," Anderson said.
Northwest Housing Alternatives was formed in 1982 and in the late 1990s Bob Walsh began looking for a nonprofit housing agency to partner with.
"He became a friend and partner and that is when NHA became a state-wide agency," Anderson said.
O'Neill/Walsh Community Builders partnered with MWA Architects to build the new Milwaukie campus, so "we asked Bob if we could name the project after him," Anderson said.
"He's so humble; he said it wasn't about him, but about the company. So we settled on Walsh Commons," he added.
Former executive director McLennan said she thinks it is fitting that the project is named after the company's commitment to affordable housing.
"Bob Walsh and Walsh Construction have been partners of NHA and the affordable housing work in Oregon for decades," she said.
"They have built thousands of units over the years; they have built many of NHA's properties, and they sold properties to NHA so they will be affordable for generations to come," she said.
McLennan added that she wants to thank the NHA team and all its partners in this project.
Cut the ribbon!
What: The public is invited to the grand opening of the new Northwest Housing Alternatives campus
When: 4-6 p.m. on Aug. 20. Remarks and ribbon cutting will take place at 4:30 p.m., followed by tours of the site.
Where: 2316 S.E. Willard, Milwaukie
Details: The campus includes 28 units of permanent, affordable rental units, the expansion of the Annie Ross House family shelter and the Opportunity Center office complex.
Parking: Because of construction at nearby Milwaukie High School, parking will be severely limited. Parking will be available at Milwaukie Presbyterian Church, 2416 S.E. Lake Road, and public transportation is encouraged. The campus is a five-minute from the Milwaukie/Main MAX stop.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)