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Church to build affordable housing

A North Portland church is beginning its quest to help solve the affordable housing crisis in the city.

Almost two years ago, University Park United Methodist Church’s members discussed the possibility of utilizing their property to build affordable housing units for low-income households. In April, when the church’s Board of Trustees of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference agreed to guarantee the loan, University Park’s talk turned into action.

The church, at 4775 N. Lombard St., is now securing loans, hiring a contractor and awaiting permit approvals.

The congregation will build a 26-unit apartment building on its property, which will cost $2.1 million to construct, says the developer, Rob Justus. Funding will come from a bank loan and the profits of selling a home set aside to house the pastor, which is no longer needed.

If everything goes smoothly, construction on the apartments should start in the spring of 2017, says University Park Pastor Julia Nielsen.

The Annual Conference hopes to organize a system where it can repurpose other properties for affordable housing. Nielsen says University Park will be a prototype project for other churches wanting to do the same.

“If we can do this, we might be able to learn some things that we can share with other churches,” Nielsen says.

“Our goal is to solve the affordable housing crisis in Portland. I think there’s a possibility of making that happen.”

The church partnered with Justus, cofounder of Home First Development, who says two other churches have already approached him about starting an affordable housing project since he began the University Park apartments.

Many churches have assets and are thinking of new and innovative ways to use those assets to help the homeless and the community, says Lowell Greathouse, the mission and ministry coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

“It opens up the possibility of sparking a revolution or a new way for churches to be involved in addressing affordable housing,” Greathouse says.

The route University Park is taking is appealing, Justus says, because it doesn’t involve the government, saving time and money. The church owns the land and the bank issues a loan. “It’s straightforward financing,” Justus says.

The church is more than 120 years old and at one time had hundreds of members. The congregation has been dwindling in members for the past 20 years, Nielsen says.

More than a year ago, St. Johns Community Church formed a union with University Park, and the community grew. Both churches, which now share the same place of worship, have a historic relationship with helping the homeless in each of their communities.

Portland’s sizzling housing market has caused rents to rise at a record pace, increasing homelessness. In January 2015 there were 3,801 homeless people sleeping on the streets, in shelters and in temporary housing in Multnomah County, according to the 2015 Point-In-Time Report.

“Housing is a critical need,” Greathouse says. “We want to be a part of the solution to homelessness and affordability of housing in Portland.”

The church’s dream is starting to become a reality.

The housing will consist of 13 two-bedroom units with 790 square feet, and 13 one-bedroom units with 400 square feet. Every unit will have a washer, dryer and full kitchen.

Justus says the apartments will be rented to people with incomes less than 60 percent of the median family income. Nielsen says she anticipates rents will be around $700 a month.

The housing will fill the current lawn space on the church’s property, as well as take up a portion of the west side of the Errol Stephenson Hall, Nielsen says. There will be some deconstruction to the hall but the place of worship will remain.

“This makes it possible for University Park to connect with their community in a real, tangible way that makes the church relevant and a partner with the community in addressing a real need,” Greathouse says.