Coalition of non-profits investing more than $37 million in Malheur County affordable apartments

The Presbyterian Community Care Center, closed several years ago, is due to get a makeover and to reopen as an apartment complex with what are considered affordable rents. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Malheur County will get one of the largest increases in affordable housing in years as a coalition of nonprofits unite to invest more than $37 million over the next two years.

The result will be 157 apartments, a 22% increase in the affordable housing stock locally.

“I think it is a huge, big deal,” said Barb Higinbotham, executive director of Community in Action, a local non-profit.

Community in Action joined forces with the Fruitland investor group Nascosto and Home First Development, a Portland company, to build an $11 million, 70-unit townhouse complex in northeast Ontario. That project is the biggest affordable building venture in the city in the past 40 years and is scheduled to break ground next May.

Along with that venture, three other major affordable housing projects are in the planning stage sponsored by the Housing Authority of Malheur and Harney County, Home First Development and Northwest Housing Alternatives, a Portland non-profit affordable housing developer.

In Nyssa, the housing authority will invest more than $1 million to renovate Nyssa Court, a seven-unit facility that offers affordable housing.

“It’s a pretty big deal for Nyssa residents, especially because they are three-bedroom units,” said Kristy Rodriguez, housing authority executive director.

Rodriguez said the housing authority bought Nyssa Court in November 2019 for $150,000 from a consortium of Salem-area owners.

Two of the owners, she said, donated their share of the profits back to the housing authority.

“So, we only paid $75,000,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said the housing authority also obtained a state grant along with tax credits worth $460,000 to push the project forward.

Rodriguez said she is “extremely excited about the project.”

Plans for the Nyssa project include exterior and interior work, new plumbing, heating equipment, and lighting.

Nyssa Court is also the only affordable multi-family facility in Nyssa that doesn’t require a member of the household to work in agriculture, said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said the project is slated to start next spring and be completed by July 2022.

In Ontario, Northwest Housing Alternatives will spearhead a $16 million venture to transform the former Presbyterian Community Care Center into 56 affordable rental units.

Northwest Housing will use a mixture of federal and state grants and tax credits to pay for the project.

While Northwest Housing will oversee the project it already has help from the Malheur United for Housing Task Force.

The task force includes Lifeways Behavioral Health, Community in Action, the Oregon Department of Human Services, Euvalcree, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario and Valley Family Health.

“The task force has contributed directly to my project,” said Clayton Crowhurst, housing developer for Northwest Housing.

Crowhurst said the task force signed an agreement with Northwest Housing to “provide services, support and funding for the project.”

“A lot of that will come in the form of service dollars or vouchers to cover the rent in a particular unit,” said Crowhurst.

Crowhurst said his organization was first approached about the possibility of buying the Presbyterian Community Care Center in 2017. The care center, a local staple for more than 60 years on North Oregon Street, closed in 2017.

“The Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state department that manages affordable housing, kind of reached out to a few different non-profits. We did some due diligence during the winter of 2017 and bought it in 2018,” said Crowhurst.

Crowhurst said Northwest Housing paid “in the $500,000 range.”

Construction on the rental units is slated to begin next spring or early summer. Tentative plans call for the construction to be complete by the summer of 2022.

Crowhurst said his organization will “push for local contractors to get a chunk of this.”

“From where I am at, I am seeing Malheur County is at a tipping point where if it is able to leverage this development into for-profit development it could really jump start the next generation of companies willing to do projects on a lot larger scale,” said Crowhurst.

Crowhurst said sometimes it is hard to find area contractors who are not already “committed to development in the Boise metro area.”

“A project like this could take someone from a five-employee company doing kitchen remodels and the occasional home to all of sudden they’re a 10- to 20-employee firm able to handle larger projects. Other developers start to see that and start to look at Ontario, Vale and Nyssa as a place where they might want to develop,” said Crowhurst.

Crowhurst said state agencies with headquarters in western Oregon aren’t aware of the housing shortage in places like Ontario where the “need is massive.”

“It is just one of those things where there hasn’t been any research done on the market for affordable housing,” said Crowhurst.

In Vale, funding from the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department will allow continued rent subsidies for tenants of the 24-unit Malheur Village facility. The subsidy contract guarantees tenants never have to pay more that 30% of their income toward rent. The previous contact was set to expire in February but with state help it will continue, preserving the 24 units as affordable housing.

State financing will also allow Timber River Development, a Bellevue, Wash., development firm, to upgrade and renovate units at Malheur Village at 855 A St. W. in Vale.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at 541-473-3377.

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