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Orchards at Orenco residents complain of air quality problems, illegal residents and a dear ear from REACH Community Development.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - George and Terri Schweser sit in the living room of their apartment at the Orchards at Orenco in Hillsboro. The couple have been complaing for months about poor living conditions at Orchards of Orenco apartment complex.When Orchards at Orenco opened its doors, it promised big things for Hillsboro.

The affordable housing apartment complex was hailed as one of the most energy efficient buildings in the state. It was so efficient, builders said, residents would have lower-than-average utilities cost in addition to regulated rental rates. Its tripled-paned windows and near foot-thick insulation promised to keep apartments cool on even the hottest days. It was supposed to use 80 percent less energy than a standard home.

But nearly three years after opening, residents living at Orchards say it has failed to come through on many of its promises.

The 167-unit, affordable housing development opened in 2015 in the Orenco neighborhood on Northeast Cherry Drive. Located next to light rail and within walking distance of shops and grocery stores, Orchards at Orenco appeared poised to be a small step toward adding to the affordable housing supply in Hillsboro.

When Gov. Kate Brown visited Orchards in 2016, she touted the complex as a model for future affordable housing projects. A 2015 article in Politico called the Orchards project "the house that could save the world."

The site is being built in phases. Phase three is expected to break ground later this year after the organization wrapped up financing for the $14.5 million addition this spring.

Residents at Orchards have complained for months about high temperatures inside the building and large fluctuations in temperature throughout the day.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - A handheld temperature gage shows the temperature in the hallway of the first phase of Orchards at Orenco: 78.6 degrees, when the outside temperature was around 60 degrees."I was, apparently, the first person to make up a petition, and it was about the strange heating in the building," said resident Richard Lombard, who has lived at Orchards since it opened. "This was just when it had first opened, because I live on the second floor facing north, and my apartment was very hot."

He didn't expect much from the petition, he said, and was more interested in why temperatures varied from zone to zone.

"The thing was full," he said. "There were 30 or 40 signatures. People were upset."

In addition, residents have complained about lackluster security and poor maintenance at the complex as well; everything from missing window screens to breakdowns with the ventilation system.

Other basic maintenance issues have gone unresolved, residents said.

A first floor trash room has been littered with garbage, which residents often have to clean up themselves. Residents have also complained about animal urine in the building.

Residents have taken their concerns about air quality issues — notably cigarette and marijuana smoke which wafts through the ventilation system from one apartment to another, and odor in the building despite a smoking ban — to REACH Community Development, which operates Orchards.

"That's my issue," Lombard said. "Everybody will have their own issue, and it all goes back to the underlying foundation of lack of response. There's a commonality there."

Safety has also been a major issue for some residents.

The apartment complex has been a hub of police activity, residents say. In the 10 months since Phase Two opened in summer 2016, Hillsboro police have been called to the building 55 times. Several were for domestic disturbance calls or checks on a suspicious person or suspicious circumstance.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The Orchards at Orenco in Hillsboro was hailed by many as the gold standard for affordable housing, but residents say that the apartments energy efficient design doesnt work, and management hasn't listened to complaints about safety.The building is kept locked and requires residents to be buzzed in. In complaints to REACH, residents said visitors have loitered around the door and attempted to sneak in when the door is opened. According to a letter sent to the REACH, residents have had car windows broken and many "don't feel safe coming and leaving the buildings."

Law enforcement officials have said they see a higher number of calls at affordable housing developments, and that one or two "problem units" can skew the numbers, but admitted that police activity at Orchards is higher than normal.

Under new management

Over the last several months, residents have repeatedly complained that concerns fall on deaf ears.

Several vocal leaders among the affected residents have begun writing to local politicians, including Washington County commissioners Greg Malinowski and Bob Terry, and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden.

Terry said he was "surprised" to hear some of the residents' concerns, and the county's reputation is on the line when it comes to local affordable housing options.

"We want them to be clean, and we want them to be respected for what they are," Terry said.

The complaints worked their way to Val Valfre, executive director of the Washington County Housing Authority, who contacted REACH Chief Executive Director Dan Valliere to investigate.

"He told me what they were planning to do and they were already moving in that direction," Valfre told the Tribune. "I informed him, from a county perspective, we wanted it taken care of sooner than later."

REACH says the project has several challenges, not the least of which is working with a new energy-efficient design — a new venture for the nonprofit.

"Any time you innovate, you run into tweaks you need to adjust," said REACH Fundraising and Public Relations Manager Lauren Schmidt. "We're doing what we can to figure this out; it's a process."

In a letter sent to residents in March, REACH stated it was aware of ventilation and security concerns. Odors might have been a result of the ventilator not working properly, the letter read, but repairs had been made. The company also reminded residents not to cover up air vents, as it may contribute to a lack of efficiency.

At a resident meeting on May 24, REACH officials announced they had hired a new manager for the complex and would be adding a new assistant manager position. Valliere said adding the assistant manager was something REACH planned to do once the third phase was completed, but decided to implement ahead of schedule in response to resident concerns.

Hiring new management was done in the hopes of improving communication between REACH and residents, something Valliere said needs to improve on both sides. The residents need a better understanding of what REACH is working on, and the nonprofit needs a better connection to hear the concerns of residents, he said.

"A good manager should make sure to have good communication flow to residents who have problems or concerns," Valliere said, "so people don't feel like nothing is happening,"

'We acknowledge that this is a problem'

When Phase One was built, the $14.5 million building was the largest apartment building ever built to Passive House standards in the United States — a highly efficient way of building homes in which comfortable temperatures can be maintained mostly by opening and closing windows at the correct time of day. The goal is to cut down on energy use, and therefore reduce the cost of heating and cooling.

The buildings also use an energy recovery ventilator, which tempers incoming air, limiting the amount energy needed to raise or lower the temperature.

Some of the challenges associated with a large-scale energy efficient apartment building are to be expected, Valliere said, given that nothing has ever been done to a similar scale in the United States.

"I'm not entirely shocked at some of the issues," Valliere said of the mechanical problems. "We're trying to work as quickly as we can to get the system down right."

Schmidt said temperature and ventilation issues residents have reported aren't a problem with the design of the building.

"The mechanical systems installed are not performing to our expectations and we acknowledge that this is a problem," Schmidt told the Tribune via email last week. "We are working on this with our contractors and are investigating why some units are too hot and other residents are reporting their units are comfortable."

Repairs and replacement for certain issues are ongoing. Additionally, Schmidt said REACH is offering to install ceiling fans to residents who request them, but the building isn't designed to have air conditioners in the units. The community room and office are both air conditioned, Schmidt noted.

REACH's May 24 meeting and move to new management were met with skepticism from some residents who said they feel burned by the events of the last several months.

Several of leaders from the nonprofit present at the meeting, including Valliere and REACH Portfolio Manager Jamie Martinson, got an earful. Residents pressed Martinson on whether he would allow a member of his own family to stay in the complex under current conditions. His answer, according to residents at the meeting: No.

REACH said residents took Martinson's response out of context.

"Staff was expressing that he agrees with residents who are in the hottest units and that it's not acceptable to us either and we are committed to fixing these problems," Schmidt told the Tribune via email.

Lombard, who has been battling multiple unrelated medical problems for several years, said he has had enough and is moving to Eugene.

Other residents, many of whom wish to remain anonymous, say they don't have anywhere to go that will offer them affordable rent.

"Hopefully this is a turning point," said resident Michael Mascaro, "but time will tell."

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