Ernesto Fonseca surveys the dusty island of concrete and weeds in Northeast Portland and sees a transition in the making: "From a place of abuse — to a place of empowerment."
It's been 27 months since the CEO of Hacienda Community Development Corp. hopped in the cab of a backhoe and began tearing at the fake red brick and checkerboard walls of the Sugar Shack, a seedy strip club once notorious as a den of illegal activity.
Fonseca returned to the site Friday, March 12, for the formal groundbreaking of Las Adelitas, a $58 million, 142-unit affordable housing project that will be the largest ever public investment in the Cully neighborhood when redevelopment is completed in October 2022.
Speaking to the gathered dignitaries over the rumble of passing trucks and whirring of air-compressor wrenches at a nearby auto yard, Mayor Ted Wheeler called the project "a triumph."
"This project is an inspiration for each and every one of Portland's neighborhoods who want to make a change," he said. "The city of Portland stands with Cully."
The four-story, wood and concrete building will offer views of Mount St. Helens on a clear day, as well as the piles of rock and gravel stored on the other side of bustling Highway 30. Amenities will include a plaza with public seating and stage, event hall and classroom space for Hacienda's Portland Ninos program for kids age newborn to five. The first floor will include "tuck under" parking for residents.
Monthly rents range from $431 for each of 15 studio apartments, $451 for the 27 one-bedroom units to as much as $1,338 for most of the 26 three-bedroom apartments. The project also features Section 8 flats and 18 Permanent Supportive Housing units offering case services by Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare or Familias en Acción.
"Today is a beautiful step in the right direction for justice," Commissioner Dan Ryan said. "When families have safe, stable housing with the right network of support, there's no limit to what children can achieve."
Major funders include Red Stone Equity Partners ($21.2 million), the Portland Housing Bond ($15 million), the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing ($9.4 million) and state agency Oregon Housing and Community Services ($4.4 million). Wells Fargo loaned out $28.1 million for construction.
The job includes burying adjacent high-powered utility lines that feed the airport, will employ 40 subcontractors and bring 150 workers on site at peak, according to LMC Construction senior project manager Ken Bello.
"Projects like this are important to keep the diversity in the neighborhood," Bello said. "Diversity is not only skin deep. We need socioeconomic diversity."
While he admits the fuchsia tinted metal facade and turquoise shutters shown in renderings have raised a few eyebrows, principal architect Alex Salazar said he was inspired by the bold contrasting colors and overlapping forms of modernist Latin American buildings.
"We're really trying to accentuate a more international and culturally specific design," he said.
The eastern tip of the triangle-shaped lot will be left undeveloped for now, but could host a playground and food cart pod later. Planners are hoping the city transportation bureau will cut down on traffic using Killingsworth Street to reach Highway 30, and add a midway pedestrian crossing as well.
Portland broke ground on 142 units of affordable housing today!— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) March 12, 2021
At $58 million, Las Adelitas is the largest redevelopment ever in the Cully neighborhood.
A majority of units will be 2 or 3 bedrooms & others are for formerly houseless
Rent will be 30-60% of area median income pic.twitter.com/Hov8EFFthJ
Hacienda CDC — which is Oregon's largest Latino-led, Latino-serving housing organization — is now deeply invested in the area, with its headquarters and two other affordable projects located directly across Killingsworth, and two other complexes just blocks away. While a recent fire temporarily displaced eight families living at the 133-unit Villa de Clara Vista, the Hacienda will put a roof over the head of some 2,000 people in the area when all is said and done.
"The goal is that we are a catalyzer for positive change, and I think we have accomplished it," Fonseca said.
Though he wasn't invited inside, Greg Garcia watched the ceremony proceed from a perch on the stoop of a dilapidated trailer parked just outside the construction chain-link fence. As his friends smoked and rolled cigarettes, Garcia said he supported the project — but wondered why the lot had sat empty for two years in the meantime.
"So far, the only excitement that happens in this parking lot is shootings, gang fights — I hear it and see it all the time," the Glenwood trailer park resident said. "This area and this community needs the low-income housing. They need someplace safe to be."
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