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Stamp of disapproval

by: VERN UYETAKE This is a mail delivery suspension notice delivered to residents at Oakridge Park, a new low-income apartment for seniors in Lake Oswego. The post office said it was suspending mail service because there wasn’t a designated place for mail carriers to park their vehicles.

The last letter Tere Van Diest received was from the post office itself, informing her mail service would cease for the roughly 50 residents at Oakridge Park, an apartment building serving low-income seniors 62 and older.

The suspension took effect the following day, Feb. 1.

It's unclear when mail deliveries and pickups will resume, leading to anxiety and frustration for Oakridge Park tenants.

'Many of us are pretty spry for being 62-plus,' Van Diest said, noting those folks can make the short walk down the street to the Lake Grove Post Office to fetch their own mail. But some are physically disabled.

'Some have no vehicle, and some of these ladies in their 80s are supposed to go out in the pouring rain and retrieve their mail? I just don't get it.'

Whether it's greeting cards, bills or medication, residents rely on regular mail service. Many also use the daily task of retrieving mail to socialize.

'I'm waiting for my medication,' Van Diest said. 'That will become a problem for me, because I take it every day. … And what about people where getting the mail is the highlight of their day?'

The postal service has blamed the lack of a dedicated space in the building's parking lot for its decision to stop mail service.

It may seem like just a hop and a skip for the mail carrier to walk to Oakridge Park, but in the long run, that extra work is expensive, said Kerry Jeffrey, a U.S. Postal Service customer relationships coordinator based in Portland.

These days USPS typically requires new housing developments to have curbside mail receptacles. That reduces time and energy needed to make deliveries, cutting back on costs.

'It's cost-effective for the postal service to have delivery on the street,' Jeffrey said.

In the case of Oakridge Park, USPS reached an agreement with Northwest Housing Alternatives, the building's owner, so mail would be brought inside the complex. However, that agreement required a designated USPS parking spot, which apparently hasn't been provided since the apartments opened in November.

'Obviously not delivering their mail isn't what we want to do; we're in business to deliver the mail to our customers,' Jeffrey said. 'If we have to temporarily stop delivery, it's not something we take lightly.'

There are some differences of opinion about who fell short of expectations.

'It's my understanding this has gone on for quite some time,' Jeffrey said. 'In the absence of living up to the agreement, it finally came to 'if it's not going to happen, we need to come up with some other mode of delivery.''

But Martha McLennan, executive director of Northwest Housing Alternatives, said she thought the parking 'snafu' was settled in November. Northwest Housing officials thought the plan was for mail carriers to park in a loading zone, and USPS didn't raise any questions until the week before mail service was suspended.

'The confusion was around whether they required a space dedicated 24-7 for their vehicle even though it would only use the space for 10 minutes a day, six days a week,' McLennan said.

And though both sides were happy to announce they had reached a new agreement late last week, it seems the communication breakdown has continued.

The proposed fix: Mail carriers could share a parking spot with the Oakridge Park apartment manager, who typically doesn't drive to work, according to McLennan. She thought service would resume Friday.

Jeffrey, of USPS, also said delivery would resume 'soon.'

As of late Wednesday, residents at Oakridge Park were still waiting.

Van Diest said she feels she's being penalized 'for nothing I did.'

'It's an issue between the postal service and building owner,' she said. 'Parking is a problem, but in all my 63 years, I've never known a postal truck that gets a special spot to deliver mail.'




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