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Oakridge Park: New apartments open for low-income seniors

Housing project is something to be thankful for
by: VERN UYETAKE The city allowed the new Oakridge Park Apartments to have fewer parking spaces than neighborhood residents wanted, and it remains unclear how many of the tenants have cars they plan to park there, but Lake Grove Presbyterian Church has agreed to provide overflow parking when necessary.

At 66 years old, Doreen has been looking for a way to stay in Lake Oswego without having to keep working full-time in an office. She has lived on the edge of the Mountain Park area for four years.

'I'm getting old,' said Doreen, who asked earlier this week that her last name not be used for privacy reasons. 'I don't want to work until I'm 70. I've had some health issues; mortality was rearing its ugly head.'

Living alone and facing reduced income, her only option was to find cheaper housing, long considered a rarity in Lake Oswego.

But this week, Doreen was among residents preparing to move into Oakridge Park, a new 45-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors just off Boones Ferry Road.

Northwest Housing Alternatives developed the $11 million project, financed through federal and state sources, and Lake Grove Presbyterian Church helped get the ball rolling.

The church, which has had a senior housing committee for years, found a buildable, available site and asked the housing nonprofit to supply its expertise.

Now, church and NW Housing officials believe the apartments will serve a growing segment of Lake Oswego's population: Those 65 and older, who often are living on fixed incomes but want to stay in the community they've lived in for years.

'There are a lot of low-income seniors in the community, and there is a real need for affordable housing,' said Diana Shavey, a project liaison for the church and a member of its senior housing committee. 'The church itself has a high population of members who are over 60 years old, and we know what the issues are with seniors as they age.'

Seniors face issues with transportation, health care and high housing costs, and many times their families live elsewhere, she said. Yet often they still hope to continue living here.

'Many of them grew up and worked in Lake Oswego much of their lives, contributed to the vitality and civic good of the community, paid taxes and worked for the community's betterment,' Shavey said.

The most recent census data show residents 65 and older now represent 16 percent of the city's population of about 36,600.

That number is up from past census reports, and it will likely continue to grow. Over the next 25 years, the senior population is projected to grow to as much as 24 percent of Lake Oswego's residents, according to city reports. As the older population booms, housing needs can shift.

The new units at Oakridge Park saw high demand.

To live at Oakridge Park, residents must be 62 or older and earn 50 percent or less of the metro area's median income, which is about $25,000 for a single-person household. At similar senior apartment buildings, the average income is $12,000 or $13,000, said Martha McLennan, executive director of Northwest Hous-ing Alternatives. Residents will pay 30 percent of their earnings on rent, which includes utilities.

More than 100 people who met the age and income requirements applied for Oakridge Park's 45 apartments, and 26 of the applicants already lived in Lake Oswego. A lottery determined which applicants would become residents; of the new renters, 15 are from Lake Oswego. Some of the others wanted to move here to be closer to their families, while some were simply looking for affordable housing, McLennan said. Regardless, there were a lot of people interested in living at Oakridge Park.

'It says there is a lot of need for housing,' McLennan said. 'A lot of people need good, affordable housing.'

Northwest Housing Alternatives is the largest affordable housing provider in the state, putting roofs over the heads of 2,500 Oregon-ians, said Tim Collier, the agency's resource development director. About 40 percent of those served by its rentals are seniors, according to the agency.

At Oakridge Park, a manager who lives nearby will staff an office during regular work hours; at other times, a 101-year-old woman and her daughter, who is about 70, will act as the 'keyholders' at the complex. The pair will live in the only two-bedroom unit in the building. The other units are single-bedroom apartments.

Residents must be able to live independently, but they'll have access to some extra services. A resident services coordinator will organize programs related to health and safety and emergency referrals.

Lake Grove Presbyterian Church will give residents additional access to social services and activities, transportation assistance and some basic health programs. The church will also provide space for overflow parking.

The new 40,000-square-foot building was designed to meet Energy Star efficiency guidelines, featuring Energy Star-qualified appliances and lighting and a tight building envelope.

Additional 'green' features including a vegetated roof to help absorb and filter rainwater. The paint and other materials in each room are low-VOC, meaning they don't emit the volatile organic compounds many building products do. Each room also features 'green label' carpeting, rubber flooring and good air ventilation, project officials said.

But Oakridge Park has not been without controversy. The apartments spent two years mired in appeals after the city approved them in 2007.

The Waluga Neighbor-hood Association challenged the city's decision to give developers flexibility in building the project. Among residents' concerns were building height and mass, limited parking and overall compatibility with the neighborhood.

Going through the process with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, the neighborhood eventually lost its case based on what many still see as a 'technicality,' after the neighborhood missed a filing deadline, said Cheryl Uchida, a Waluga representative.

'It's not like we lost it on a decision that was made,' Uchida said.

And some of the initial concerns remain.

Some residents are still uneasy with how close the building sits to the property line as well as its overall size, although Uchida noted the fourth floor was set back from those below so it appears less substantial from the street.

'The nice part is they tried to save most of the big trees that they could; it's nicely nestled in the trees.'

However, Uchida said, 'The jury's still out. That's a busy corner. … The street can't take the overflow parking the way it's designed now.' She doesn't expect to fully realize impacts until the apartments are fully in use.

Even so, her hopes are high for engaging the new residents in Waluga neighborhood activities.

'Maybe I'm getting old after all of this fighting and losing in the end to a technicality, but we've just resigned ourselves to the fact that it's a good thing,' Uchida said. 'The city wanted it, we were and still are for affordable housing, especially for seniors, and that means this is a good thing.

'I think they'll be good neighbors, and we'll welcome them to our neighborhood just like any other new residents.'