Vets' housing opens in Aloha
Even as advocates celebrated the opening of Pomeroy Place in Aloha, which will provide housing for 20 low-income veterans and their families, a state official says many more could be built if lawmakers raise the recording fee at their upcoming session.
"We have a lot more work to do. We must end housing instability and homelessness for our veterans, our seniors, those who are disabled, and families," said Kenny LaPoint, assistant director for public affairs of the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.
LaPoint was among the speakers at a ceremony Thursday, Jan. 25, conducted by Northwest Housing Alternatives based in Milwaukie, the project's nonprofit sponsor and owner.
Housing, said executive director Martha McLennan, "is the core (service) that people need to be safe, stable, productive and to give back."
"What we recognized in Washington County was an incredible partnership of people fully committed to this issue," she added. "Now we see the fruits of our labor."
Oregon's current fee of $20 for each property document recorded by counties — $5 of it earmarked for veterans' aid — raises more than $30 million in a two-year budget cycle for housing development, homeownership assistance and emergency rent assistance.
House Bill 4007, pending in the 2018 session that opens Feb. 5, would raise the fee to $75. (A bill to raise it to $40, sponsored by the Oregon Housing Alliance, never made it to a vote of the full House last year. The current bill is backed by the alliance and the Oregon Association of Realtors, which has a proposal for a pretax savings account for first-time buyers.)
"This would be a huge win for the state as we work to ensure that all Oregonians have access to housing opportunities," said LaPoint, whose agency contributed about half of the $6.25 million total cost of the Pomeroy Place project.
The rest came from Washington County, Community Housing Fund, Network for Oregon Affordable Housing, JP Morgan Chase Bank and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Vets search for housing
Veterans make up about 10 percent of those tallied in point-in-time counts without permanent shelter.
Cole Schnitzer is a social worker for the VA in Portland who placed 10 of the families, some of whom were at the Salvation Army's Veterans and Family Center in Beaverton, which provides transitional housing for 50.
"While only a few of them were actually sleeping in places not meant for habitation … by putting those 10 families here on this property, we are able to open up 10 more units at the shelter," he said.
One of them was Tamara, a Navy veteran who declined to give her last name, but said she was grateful both for the transitional shelter and a new apartment, where she lives with her two children.
Qualifying families earn 30 percent or less of the area's median family income. Five households draw rental vouchers from Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, and the other 15 from Section 8, of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"I will continue to advocate to protect these important federal programs," said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who also was present at the groundbreaking ceremony back in October 2016, "and make sure we have the resources and support we need to help our veterans live their best lives."
Aides read letters of congratulations from U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
"This is just one piece of the housing puzzle," said Andy Duyck, Washington County board chairman, who acknowledged that housing needed by low-income families is far short of what is available and affordable to them.
According to a 2016 study commissioned by Washington County and its separate housing authority, and conducted by Portland State University, the gap was estimated at 14,000; some say the real figure is closer to 23,000, based on 72,000 Washington County workers who commute daily from elsewhere.
"We made a commitment to do our best to get those people into stable housing as quickly as possible," Duyck said.
"Some folks didn't know what we are doing for affordable housing. But wherever we can, we are trying to make an impact, however modest that may be. For people living in those units, that impact is huge in their lives."
Among the projects completed in recent years with county assistance, he said, are Barcelona Apartments (47), Bridge Meadows (41) and Sunset View Apartments (236) in Beaverton, and Orchards (115) in Hillsboro's Orenco neighborhood.
Cornelius Place (45) is underway atop the new Cornelius library, and Willow Creek Crossing (120) is planned at 185th Avenue and Baseline Road in Hillsboro. A 48-unit project is envisioned near Cornell Road and Murray Boulevard in Cedar Mill.
"We will deliver the housing they need," said Duyck, who is near the end of an eight-year tenure as chairman and 24 years on the board. "I hope my successor will carry on that legacy, because the issue and the need do not go away."
Also present were Commissioners Greg Malinowski and Bob Terry.
Pomeroy Place is named after Mae "Betty" Pomeroy, who was in the Army from 1958 to 1988 and retired at the rank of colonel in an era when it was rare for women to attain such rank. She lives in Hillsboro.
She drew a standing ovation after McLennan presented her with a commemorative plaque that duplicates one in the community room.
"I am thrilled that so many of the new residents are with us today. They are as happy as I am," Pomeroy said.
"The only thing I have to say is hats off to Northwest Housing Alternatives, which thought outside the box and did this for our veteran community."