Business & economy, In the community, Local government

Major homeless shelter being readied in Ontario with $4 million grant

ONTARIO — The local housing authority has acquired a 17-unit property in Ontario it plans to turn into transitional housing for the county’s homeless. 

The project, the first of its kind in Ontario, came through a $4 million Project Turnkey grant, a state-funded program, according to a press release from the Oregon Community Foundation, a Portland-based organization that oversees the funding. 

Kristy Rodriguez, executive director of the Housing Authority of Malheur and Harney Counties, the local agency that received the grant, said that general contractors are scheduled to complete work on the project at the Mills Manor Apartments, 819 N. Oregon St., by the end of the year. 

Rodriguez said the grant allowed the agency to acquire the apartment complex for $1.2 million last month. The property, with two-bedroom, one-bathroom units, needs $2.8 million in “severe upgrades.”

She noted that general contractors are currently doing demolition work, replacing siding and other exterior work.

A stipulation of the grant, Rodriguez said, is that the work is completed by the end of the year. As a result, she anticipates that transitional housing will open in January or February. 

While the details of the apartment complex have yet to be finalized, Rodriguez said the plan is to offer leases from six months to one year for the more than 250 people experiencing houselessness in Malheur County. 

Community in Action, an Ontario-based housing organization, will manage the application process and arrange for tenants wrap-around services like mental health services. 

Rodriguez said the idea with transitional housing is to get those experiencing houselessness placed into a more stable living situation. She said this could be through a government housing voucher system, otherwise known as Section 8, which issues rent to a landlord on behalf of low-income households. 

While the Housing Authority would cover the cost of utilities for tenants, it is not clear whether people would have to pay rent at all or if it would be based on income, according to Rodriguez. 

She said the program would be for anyone in need, not just single people but those with children. 

“You never know with the homeless folks that we serve in the area,” she said. “Lots of them do actually have children.” 

For that reason, she said, there is a parcel of land in the back of the property they hope to buy and turn into a playground for children. 

Rodriguez said the property would have 24-hour surveillance with a property management office staffed with a manager trained to handle tenant and crisis issues. In addition, she said the staff would likely have peer support specialist training. 

As Malheur County’s first year-round housing shelter, Rodriguez said the apartment complex would make a difference to many homeless folks in the area who simply might just be “down on their luck,” need a place to go and can’t afford the ever-increasing rent, in the county. 

“Some people just can’t afford the rent,” she said. “And so where do they go? So I’m really pleased to say this is a great opportunity for Malheur County to be able to finally say we have a place for you to go.”

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