Clay Tower deal offers model

My View • Talks preserve senior affordable housing downtown

Clay Tower Apartments will remain affordable housing for seniors and those with disabilities for the next 20 years.

It's such a simple statement - one that belies the complexity of effort it has taken to ensure this outcome these past 18 months.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief with the last signature in place. It took incredible patience, perseverance, expertise and good will to get to this point.

We all hope it serves as a model of cooperation and financing, and encourages other nonprofits - particularly religious organizations - to step forward on the remaining properties to preserve such precious housing resources in perpetuity for our community.

Clay Tower Apartments was built by Harold, Arlene and Jordan Schnitzer nearly 30 years ago under a Section 8 contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as the first of its kind in our community.

Today, it is the first of a dozen in Portland whose contracts will expire in the next seven years, and one of the nearly 30 percent of these contracts nationwide in similar circumstances.

As of this week, it is owned by a partnership affiliated with Cedar Sinai Park, a local nonprofit with nearly 90 years of experience meeting the medical and social service needs of the elderly.

Always well-maintained, Clay Tower will undergo renovations during the next year to modernize it for its next 20 years of service.

It was a passing conversation with Jordan and Harold Schnitzer in the spring of 2006, following a board meeting of another community organization, that led us to today.

Who would have guessed the question of 'What else are you up to these days?' could set off such a positive chain of events that would ensure their family's goal of preserving Clay Tower as a subsidized, healthy living environment for seniors?

We all agreed: Who better than an experienced nonprofit could perpetuate its existence?

This transaction paves the way for Cedar Sinai Park to expand its continuum of care from its Southwest Portland campus where it operates Robison Jewish Health Center (skilled nursing center), Rose Schnitzer Manor (assisted living facility) and the May Apartments (independent living units) to downtown Portland.

Cedar Sinai plans to build on Harsch Investment Properties' years of tradition of providing staffing support to link residents with essential medical and social services.

Susan Emmons, executive director of NW Pilot Project, said recently: 'This wrap-around service is what the residents appreciate so much about living at Clay Tower - having someone who is really looking out for their interests and that allows them to continue their independence for as long as possible. I truly think Harold, Arlene and Jordan really understand who lives in that building and believe they deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.'

They say that success has many fathers (and mothers!). If so, then this experience has numerous sets of parents striving to preserve critical affordable housing.

Both Harsch and Cedar Sinai Park are grateful to those who stepped forward with staff and financial assistance at critical junctures in this transaction: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; the city of Portland, led by Commissioner Erik Sten's efforts and those of the Bureau of Housing and Community Development with Will White, and the Portland Development Commission; the state of Oregon's Department of Housing and Community Services led by Victor Merced and the office of the Oregon state treasurer; our investor (MMA Financial) and our lenders (Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual); and community housing advocates such as NW Pilot Project.

The holidays traditionally are a heightened time of giving thanks. We all have much to be grateful for this season - particularly this milestone in the history of affordable housing in our community.

James H. Winkler is past president of Cedar Sinai Park and chairman of CSP's Building and Capital Campaign committees.