Development would target low-income seniors 55 and older

John Gilbert, co-operating manager with Pacific Crest Affordable Housing, a Bend company, wants to build low-income senior housing in Prineville.

To do so, he is seeking a 20-year tax exemption from local taxing authorities, making the project attractive to Oregon’s Housing and Community Services department (OHCS).

Gilbert attended this month’s Crook County School Board meeting to ask the board to exempt its portion of property taxes for the assessed value of the development, to be known as “IronHorse Lodge.”

If built, the project would be located in the eastern half of the IronHorse development, comprised of 4.5 acres, and within six blocks of the under-construction Barnes Butte Elementary school.

“We are planning on developing two lots, each with a 26-unit, two-story apartment building,” said Gilbert.

The project would be built in two phases, with the first building slated to be open, pending funding, in March of 2016.

“We think there is enough need to do both phases, but it is more prudent to do one phase at a time,” said Gilbert, adding that each building will offer 22 one-bedroom apartments and four two-bedroom units.

The school board was quick, and unanimous, in its decision to allow the exemption.

Anna Logan, Crook County School District’s director of business and finance, explained that the impact on the school district resulting from the tax exemption would be minimal, given today’s tax rate.

“For their estimated amount of assessed property tax of approximately $5,100, if those taxes were to be assessed and collected, the school district’s share would be $9 per year for each phase,” she said. “That was certainly one of the factors influencing the board’s decision.”

Eligible seniors must be aged 55 and over, with an annual income of $8,000 to $25,500. Rents will be tied to the Area Median Income (AMI) for Crook County as published by the Federal Housing and Urban Development agency. Rents in the development will targeted to those earning 30, 40 or 50 percent of AMI which, according to the census bureau, has been $40,263 for the years 2008 through 2012.

The tax exemptions granted Pacific Crest must be passed on to its tenants in the form of lower rents, which, for IronHorse, will result in an approximate $16 reduction.

If the project were open today, rent for a one-bedroom unit would range from $298 to $498 per month with all utilities. A two-bedroom unit would cost approximately $597.

Support for the housing project has been quick to come by as Gilbert had already received tax-exempt approvals from the City of Prineville, Crook County, Parks and Recreation, and Central Oregon Community College before approaching the school district.

“We have more than met the 51-percent approval requirement to apply for funding from OHCS,” said Gilbert, adding that with the school district on board, they had received approval from over 70 percent of the local tax precincts.

Gilbert’s partner Rob Roy noted how important the community’s support is to the project.

“It is very meaningful to us, and it demonstrates that the community has bought in to the idea,” he said. “It will be important to the state for the same reason.”

Kenny LaPoint, Housing Works’ housing and resident services director, could not be happier to see Pacific Crest build in Prineville.

“Any housing in Central Oregon is much needed housing,” he said. “Pacific Crest does a phenomenal job with their projects -- they are well built and they fully integrate into the local community.”

LaPoint admits that Central Oregon, as a whole, needs much more housing than this project will provide, but for the City of Prineville he feels it will certainly have an impact.

“This project will really address the need for housing in Prineville,” said LaPoint, adding that his organization has clients on the Housing Works voucher program that reside in Pacific Crest properties.

Central Oregon’s shortage of housing is changing the definition of the term “affordable.”

“One of our definitions of ‘affordable’ is housing that receives subsidies at certain levels to make it possible,” said Gilbert. “The people in our existing projects are no different than anyone else. They are aged 55 and over and have dignity and pride. From an outward appearance they could be home owners.”

The demographics of those seeking affordable housing has changed as well, with the baby boomer generation now in its mid-60s.

“The recession hit that demographic hard. They were not low income but now have become so,” said Gilbert. “A lot of them have not yet gotten their feet back on the ground.”

Roy wants Prineville residents to know that the project not only brings needed housing to the area, but will contribute upwards of $6 million to the local economy during the construction period.

“Even after the project is complete, there will be work available regarding the building, landscaping, management, maintenance, appliances and handyman work,” he said. “There will be ongoing employment with the building.”

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