A grand opening event to celebrate the completion of a 16-unit affordable housing project in St. Helens will take place at the complex this Friday.
The recently completed 18th Street Development, which sits adjacent to the Community Action Team building on 17th Street, features more than a dozen 400-square-foot apartments to rent for those who are low-income, or at risk of homelessness.
Nina Reed is the president of Self Help Inc., a nonprofit real estate holding company, which partnered with Community Action Team, a self-sufficiency nonprofit agency, to make the housing project possible.
"It's a 16-unit project to accomplish specialized housing for low-income, homeless at risk individuals, veterans, and disabled individuals," Reed said.
At 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 19, a grand opening ceremony will be held to celebrate the completion of the project. Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who was instrumental in helping secure funding for the project several officials stated, is scheduled to attend, along with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.
Dan Brown, the executive director of Community Action Team, said the need for affordable housing in Columbia County is great, and recent data shows that St. Helens has a high population of residents who are severely rent burdened, meaning residents pay more than half of their income on housing costs.
St. Helens was reported to be 27% rent burdened. According to a 2017 CAT survey of affordable housing, Columbia County has a deficit of nearly 1,900 units.
"That alone shows the needed for affordable housing," Brown said.
While CAT does not run the apartments, it has worked as a referral service to direct clients there. As soon as the building had its occupancy permit approved, most of the units were filled within a couple of weeks, Reed and Brown explained. As of Tuesday afternoon, Brown said 14 of the units were occupied, with the final two tenants planning to move in this month.
Funding for the project came primarily from three different sources, including a $600,000 grant from the Local Innovation Fast Track, or LIFT, program; a $675,000 loan from Wauna Federal Credit Union; and another $350,000 for mental health housing through Oregon's Housing and Community Services Department, Reed explained.
The land itself was donated by a gift of equity from Columbia County Self Help Inc. and construction work was completed locally by Rich Bailey Construction out of Warren.
The apartment complex will be operated by a specifically created limited liability company, 18th Street Development, Reed explained.
Overall the project cost $1.63 million to complete, which equates to roughly $102,000 per unit to build. Reed described the price as "unheard of," and significantly lower than the average construction cost of $200,000 to $300,000 to build.
However, Brown noted that high construction costs are currently a major burden when it comes to creating affordable housing options for public and private development.
"We wish it was less expensive to build affordable housing," Brown said. "Everything points to the fact that construction costs have never been higher than they are now."
Earlier this year, Brown spoke with Bonamici about the challenges the county, and state, face when it comes to building and supporting affordable housing options.
While the opening of this complex helps provide affordable housing for a segment of the population, Reed hopes it is just the start of more projects to come.
"This is just a beginning. And I'm hoping we can do more. That's my vision that we can do more to help those who are at risk."
Brown said he is looking forward to the grand opening as a way to recognize the groups who contributed to the project.
"We're just really excited and excited to acknowledge those who made it possible," Brown said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.