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An affordable answer arises

Church, housing group score HUD grant

Lake Oswego seniors will get a break on housing in 2009 thanks to a successful bid for federal money by the Lake Grove Presbyterian Church and a partner, Northwest Housing Alternatives.

The team recently won a $4.8 million grant from HUD, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, by proposing a 45-unit senior-housing complex on Oakridge Road.

The complex will be the second of its kind for Lake Oswego, where seniors can pay reduced rents depending on income. The only other such facility is Hollyfield Village, located across the street from Lake Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunset Drive.

Census data from 2000 shows one in every four seniors pay more than a third of their monthly income for housing in Lake Oswego, a federal benchmark for unaffordable conditions.

Libby Boatwright, pastor at Lake Grove Presbyterian, said the church began looking for land and a possible partner on an affordable housing project while talk about affordable housing for seniors heated up.

'I kept hearing stories about people having to move, people having to choose between food and medicine,' said Boatwright.

When a parishioner offered expertise in HUD projects, Boatwright said the plan to provide more affordable housing in Lake Oswego got rolling.

A second parishioner offered a commercial lot at 4255 S.W. Oakridge Road, just behind the post office on Boones Ferry Road for the planned apartments.

Called Oakridge Park, the complex will be available to seniors on fixed incomes in summer 2009, if development plans go smoothly.

To qualify for residency, at least one member of the family must be 62 years old or older. Combined household income must be less than 50 percent of the federal median income; in 2006, that was $23,750 for one person and $27,150 for two. Those approved for residency at Oakridge Park will pay only a third of their income for rent, no matter their income level.

State tax credits are expected to double HUD's contribution to the development. In the future, Oakridge Park will be run through the combined efforts of Lake Grove Presbyterian and NHA.

NHA has a 20-year history of developing affordable housing in Oregon and manages 83 properties statewide. The nonprofit will manage Oakridge Park once completed, using HUD subsidies to fill the gap between rental income and operational costs.

Lake Grove Presbyterian will deliver support services to residents of Oakridge Park through its extensive volunteer network. Services include transportation, access to classes, excursions, meals and health care.

Boatwright said residents are not required to be religious or affiliated with the church to qualify for apartments or related services.

'We're just simply offering our services if they like them,' she said, as a means of serving the community.

Jonathan Trutt, housing developer with NHA, said despite Lake Oswego's affluent veneer, data shows a need for Oakridge Park, even while property values continue to rise.

'Lake Oswego has very little affordable housing in it,' Trutt said. 'Its reputation as an affluent town is, of course, well deserved but it was just remarkable looking at the Census numbers. It doesn't have poverty … but there are a number of senior citizens who live on very modest means.'

Census data shows 1,867 households headed by seniors have an annual income of less than $25,000 within three miles of Oakridge Park.

Lake Oswego officials have grappled with affordable housing issues for the last several years. In 2005, the city council assembled a task force to study affordable housing. This year, a second city effort looked at senior issues and found housing prices top among concerns.

City leaders have pointed to the possibility of making affordable housing possible here through nonprofit partnerships.

Gay Graham, a Lake Oswego city councilor who has tracked the Oakridge Park project, said Lake Grove Presbyterian's success to date highlights the potential for other ventures and a need for city officials to stay involved.

'I think this is exactly the kind of partnership we've been talking about because we've got federal, we've got state and a faith-based partner,' Graham said. 'I'm absolutely delighted.'

Continued partnerships in the private and nonprofit sector will prevent the city of Lake Oswego from dedicating tax dollars to affordable housing projects, a suggestion that's met with resistance from local residents. No local monies will be used for the development or operation of Oakridge Park.

Boatwright said while the church participates in a consortium of church officials that provides shelter housing locally, Lake Grove Presbyterian struck out on its own with this project in hopes of modeling a success.

'Ideally we'd love to get other churches involved later on. This is just a pilot project,' she said.