New Human Solutions building gets rave reviews from community
by: Jim Clark Visitors tour a three bedroom, two bath apartment at Human Solutions' new Rockwood Building during an open house on Thursday, Aug. 18. The building will bring new affordable housing and extensive social services to an area that is significantly underserved.

Rex and Deborah Hollingsworth can't believe how quiet it is.

And neither of them realized it until they opened a door to the balcony off one of the 47 units at Human Solutions new development, The Rockwood Building. Hearing the roar of busy rush-hour traffic on Northeast 181st Avenue, both commented on how you can't hear a thing from inside the unit.

'Soundproof glass,' said Erika Silver, Human Solutions deputy director, who guided a tour of the building Thursday, Aug. 18.

It's just one of many details not overlooked in the innovative new facility located at 124 N.E. 181st Ave., just north of East Burnside Street.

The three-story building - with an eye-catching exterior complete with blue, orange, yellow and cream tiles - includes studio-style affordable housing units on the top two floors. Fifteen of the units are reserved for homeless families served by Human Solutions.

Downstairs on the main level, Human Solutions is moving its staff of 35 into new office space, where the agency will continue to offer energy assistance, employment programs and homeless placement/prevention to residents of East and mid-Multnomah County.

Once Human Solutions settles in, its office on Northeast Hood Avenue in downtown Gresham will close.

Five other agencies also are moving into the first floor. Mt. Hood Community Head Start will move next month, in time for the school year to begin, and has space for 120 children, said Jean DeMaster, Human Solutions executive director. Already, 114 children are enrolled, she added.

Loaves and Fishes will serve a noon meal to 75 seniors and disabled residents in a large space that will double as a community room during the afternoon and evening. The Rockwood Neighborhood Association, business coalition and a local soccer club have already reserved the space for meetings, DeMaster said.

Metropolitan Family Service is opening offices for the Multnomah County Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) program - which offers school-based services that increase academic success while strengthening families - at the new building. LifeWorks NW will offer alcohol and drug treatment, as well as mental health services, in its new offices in the building.

The Wallace Medical Concern will be the last agency to move in, most likely in late October or early November. The medical offices on the main floor include nine exam rooms where uninsured residents can receive health care.

All other agencies will be moved in by late October. Self Enhancement Inc., a nonprofit organization supporting at-risk urban youth; El Programa Hispano-Catholic Charities; and the Native American Youth Association also will run programs out of the $17 million building.

Services in one place

DeMaster said the building brings together many of the services homeless families need to gain stability under one roof.

For example, if a resident is sick and can't work, Human Solutions can refer them to Wallace for medical care. Once they're healthy, Human Solutions can help the resident find a job.

'It's going to be great,' Silver said.

The building also brings the services that Human Solutions provides, as well as those offered by other agencies in the building, to one of Multnomah County's lowest income neighborhoods where such services are in high demand.

'It's our best and greatest project to date,' said Bruce Whiting, a Human Solutions board member. 'We're so very pleased with how this has turned out.'

With the new building, Human Solutions now offers 630 units of affordable housing in 16 apartment communities in mid and East Multnomah County.

And while the economic downturn made it challenging to fund the $17 million project, it also highlights the need for such a building, DeMaster said.

From July 2009 through June 2010, Human Solutions prevented 378 households, or 1,442 people, from becoming homeless by providing emergency help with rent.

Another 382 families, or 1,181 people, went from homelessness into housing thanks to services provided by Human Solutions.

Nearly 2,200 adults and children were housed in the nonprofit agency's affordable housing and 384 people, or 186 families, were sheltered through its warming center and Daybreak Shelter.

Almost 8,569 households, totaling nearly 26,600 people, also received energy assistance from Human Solutions last year.

The Rockwood Building offers 32 units of affordable housing for low-income residents who make no more than 60 percent of the area's median household income - or $42,600 a year for a family of four in Multnomah County.

Another 15 units are reserved for families that are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

Rave reviews

Four units are already occupied and the building's first homeless family moved in last week, Silver said.

'They really like it,' said Dimitriy Kuzmich, a Human Solutions employee who serves as a sort of building manager for the residents. He moved into his new office Friday, Aug. 13, and by the following week was rallying volunteers to find furniture for the homeless family moving in.

'The units are built to a really good standard. It's just very exciting that we can offer this quality of housing to people in need,' he said.

The units are built to Earth Advantage standards, which means lower energy costs, said Silver.

Human Solutions invited supporters, building neighbors and others to tour the still-under construction building. About 40 people, including Gresham city councilors and a Multnomah County commissioner, checked out the site.

Durable, easy-to-clean laminate flooring looks like hardwood, but is simple and inexpensive to repair if a strip is damaged, Silver said. It's also nice for the mobility of disabled residents in the units that meet accessible design standards.

The units have small balconies overlooking 181st, Northeast Couch Street or the building's northeast quadrant, which in addition to parking includes a huge second-story outdoor patio complete with giant wooden planters awaiting trees.

'It's important,' Silver said. 'People want to put out some flowers, grow some vegetables.'

And put down roots in their new home.

Each balcony also has a tucked -away storage area including a hook for bikes, Silver pointed out.

'This is really pretty,' said Deborah Hollingsworth as she and her husband toured a spacious-feeling three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with lots of closet space. The sleek, modern loft style creates an open feel and huge windows flood the rooms with sunlight.

'Can you imagine coming off the street and bringing them into a place like this?' Rex Hollingsworth asked, taking in a 685-square foot, one-bedroom unit that rents for $628 a month.

'It'd be like you died and went to heaven,' Deborah said.

If you go

What: Grand opening of The Rockwood Building

When: 11 a.m. Tuesday,

Oct. 4

Where: 124 N.E. 181st Ave.

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