Stephens Creek Crossing replaces dilapidated housing

by: CONNECTION PHOTO: DREW DAKESSIAN - Kids play during the completion ceremony of Stephens creek
crossing June 6. The new low-income and public housing community includes a children's center run by Neighborhood House.Upper-middle-class. Predominantly white. Mostly living in single-family houses. Until recently, that’s how one might have described the demographic makeup of Southwest Portland. But with Stephens Creek Crossing, a new combination low-income and public housing community whose completion was celebrated Friday morning, that’s changing.

Due to its untenable construction type and site orientation and problems with mold, Hillsdale Terrace, a 44-year-old public housing community, was demolished in April 2012. The following August, construction began on Stephens Creek Crossing, its $52.8-million redevelopment.

“We are celebrating an amazing transformation,” said David Widmark, chair of the board of commissioners of Home Forward, formerly the Housing Authority of Portland, under whose auspices both communities were developed. “Let me just say, it was grim.”

Technically located in Southwest Portland’s Multnomah neighborhood but immediately adjacent to the boundaries of Hillsdale, Stephens Creek Crossing was Home Forward’s third and final project funded in part by Hope VI, a federal program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development intended to revitalize distressed public housing. Home Forward secured a $18.5 million grant in Hope VI grant in May 2011, after an initial failed attempt a few years prior.

“This is going to be an incredible place to live,” said Steve Rudman, Home Forward executive director, at the June 6 completion ceremony. “It’s really a culmination of Hope VI — it’s not the largest (of the three projects), but in many ways it has the greatest potential.”

In total, 122 one, two, three and four-bedroom flats and townhomes comprise Stephens Creek Crossing, with 17 of the apartments offering physical accommodations for accessibility for senior citizens and the disabled. Design and construction was done by Michael Willis Architects and R&H/Colas Construction.

Stephens Creek Crossing’s opening has been widely anticipated in the city’s Southwest quadrant. Addressing longtime citizens’ concerns about smoothly integrating their new neighbors, many of them non-native English speakers, was a frequent agenda item at meetings of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association ever since plans for the community were finalized.

The three schools assigned to the new tenants’ children — Hayhurst K-5, Robert Gray Middle School and Wilson High School — have also been preparing; not just for a change to the size of their student populations, but also their ethnic composition; gearing up for an influx of Somali and Hispanic students, a sixth-grade math teacher at Robert Gray developed a guide for her fellow staff members titled “Five Questions to Ask Your Students of Color.”

And the youngest residents of Stephens Creek Crossing will also be exposed to education almost literally right in their own backyard; a crown jewel of the development is a 7,000-square-foot children’s center with three Head Start classrooms overseen Neighborhood House, a nonprofit social service provider based in nearby Multnomah Village.

“I was especially excited about the early childhood center run by Neighborhood House,” said City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau. “Being able to have services as early as age 0 … is only going to make sure that these young people go on to the great schools in this neighborhood and lead successful lives — and, hopefully, become successful citizens and stay in the city of Portland.”

The development itself constitutes a major shift from the local housing density breakdown: While the majority of housing in the area is single-family residential, with eight persons per acre in Multnomah as of the 2010 census, Stephens Creek Crossing houses more than 400 residents on six acres.

It also is an example of the city’s changing architectural bent; according to the Home Forward website, sustainability features in Stephens Creek Crossing’s proposed design included bioswales and cisterns to manage surface water; energy-efficient, geothermal “heat exchange” heating and cooling system; and construction materials selected for indoor air quality

The Southwest Portland faith community has been involved in welcoming new Stephens Creek Crossing residents too. The Rev. Jennifer Brownell is senior pastor at Hillsdale Community Church, United Church of Christ, which is located adjacent to the Stephens Creek property. At the June 6 completion ceremony, Brownell said, “we believe that every person’s hopes and dreams have dignity and worth.”

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