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How Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District officials are incentivizing more affordable housing projects.

PMG PHOTO: KELCIE GREGA - Children hesitate before running through a splash pad at the Cedar Grove Apartments complex on Cornell Road in Beaverton on Tuesday, July 27 2021.

Children adorned in brightly colored costumes and princess gowns hesitate, just for a moment or two, before running across a recently debuted splash pad at the Cedar Grove Apartments plaza on Cornell Road in Beaverton. Others, uninterested in the nearby water feature, draw self-portraits with sidewalk chalk.

It was a scene Sandy Chen was delighted to see as she watched her own two children. Chen's kids enjoyed green and red ice pops while chasing bubbles with a woman dressed as Anna from Disney's "Frozen."

Chen said she jumped at the opportunity to take her children to the parks within the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District once COVID-19 restrictions loosened.

"We've pretty much enjoyed the playgrounds, everything," Chen said. "When no one is around, we take off our masks. We love fresh air, too."

PMG PHOTO: KELCIE GREGA  - Children draw portraits with sidewalk chalk on the plaza at Cedar Grove Apartments on Cornell Road in Beaverton on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.

Chen said her children love Disney, so when her friend told her about a "Frozen"-themed event hosted by THPRD at the apartment complex, she knew they had to be there.

The "Frozen in the Heat" event on Tuesday, July 27, was just one part of what leaders at Community Partners for Affordable Housing hope will be a long-lived partnership with THPRD.

Rachael Duke, CPAH's executive director, said her nonprofit organization partnered with the parks district to build the plaza and splash pad at the 44-unit affordable housing complex.

"Affordable housing is an important community asset, and parks are also important community assets, and really help to improve people's lives," Duke said.

In recent years, leaders at THPRD have taken it upon themselves to become more active partners in incentivizing affordable housing projects, said THPRD spokesperson Holly Thompson.

Part of that means connecting affording housing developments with more access to open parks and spaces.

A question THPRD planning manager Jeannine Rustad often asks herself is how the parks district can best provide parks access to all.

"How do we live up to this 'access for all' and make sure that anybody who wants to live in the district can afford to? Because we see what housing prices are doing," Rustad said.

Most affordable housing developments are apartment complexes, many of which don't have their own private outdoor spaces. Finding out ways to keep parks near these types of housing is crucial, officials and advocates say.

"I think that the pandemic showed us how important the access to being outside is for your physical health and for your mental health," Rustad said.

When Rustad was introduced to the folks over at CPAH, they were still in the development stages for Cedar Grove. One of the requirements they had for the development was to include a water structure to limit traffic noise, hence the reason for the new splash pad.

THPRD helped lower the nonprofit's barriers to connecting Cedar Grove to the district's existing infrastructure by waiving the system development charge, which developers ordinarily have to pay. Such charges can often be a barrier in getting affordable housing projects done when the margins are already so tight, Thompson said. They are one-time fees intended to help pay for the load placed on existing infrastructure like streets, parks and sewers by new users.

PMG PHOTO: KELCIE GREGA - Children paint on rocks during THPRD-sponsored 'Frozen in the Heat' event at Cedar Grove Apartments on Cornell Road on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.

"For us, it was really making some policy decisions about how we were going to waive fees, and how to distribute them most fairly to the most affordable projects," Thompson said.

Beyond robust community partnerships and aiding development by waiving fees, Thompson said the park district also intends to ensure surplus lands go toward affordable housing providers.

"Or at least give them a first option, or how can we maybe distribute that property in a way that helps those projects," she added.

Thompson said THPRD sees being an active partner in affordable housing as being a leader in social justice.

"For us, that means thinking about how we provide services, how we partner on those services, and making sure that everyone in the community has equitable access to public parks," she said.

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