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First state-funded fast-track housing opens in Salem

Cornerstone Apartments, a 180-unit rent-capped development, is the first of 1,700 units statewide under development through the state’s new Local Innovation and Fast Track Rental program.

By PARIS ACHEN

Capital Bureau

Published on August 14, 2018 8:13PM

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tours the Cornerstone Apartments, a new affordable housing development in Salem.

Jonathan House/Portland Tribune

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tours the Cornerstone Apartments, a new affordable housing development in Salem.

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SALEM — The first tenants of a 180-unit affordable housing development constructed with state funding through the two-year-old LIFT Rental program begin moving into their new homes in Northeast Salem Wednesday.

The Cornerstone Apartments on Northeast Portland Road are the first completed project from LIFT (Local Innovation and Fast Track). Another 1,700 units, funded with LIFT, are under development in locations ranging from rural Ontario in Eastern Oregon to urban Portland.

“While we are excited about this opportunity today, make no mistake we still have a ton of work ahead of us,” said Margaret Salazar, director of Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state housing financing agency. “Housing insecurity is continuing to impact communities large and small across the state. But it is days like today when we have the honor of welcoming new residents into their new homes that we know brick by brick and development by development we are making a difference.

“We have more housing in the pipeline than ever before.”

The Oregon Legislature created the program in 2015 with a goal of quickly providing affordable housing units to low-income families. Lawmakers have appropriated $120 million to the program since 2016.

Gov. Kate Brown took a tour of Cornerstone Tuesday and helped cut the ribbon for the apartment complex’s grand opening. Brown said she plans to ask lawmakers for $300 million in affordable housing, rental assistance and homelessness prevention in her next proposed budget. That’s roughly the same amount state lawmakers invested over the last three and a half years.

The state still needs about 150,000 additional units to catch up with the influx of population, Brown noted.

Households earning 60 percent or less of county area median income are eligible for the units. In Marion County, that equals about $39,060 per year for a family of four. Applicants with children receive priority.

Developers have a better chance of winning subsidies through LIFT if their proposed development serves rural areas or communities of color. They also can improve their odds by offering on-site social services and keeping a lower-cost-per-unit average than other proposals.

Mountain West received about $5.7 million in loans from OHCS to build Cornerstone.

Rents range from $630 for a studio to $920 for a three-bedroom apartment.

A one-bedroom apartment in Salem averaged $693 per month in 2010. By 2017, a one-bedroom cost about $1,044 — a more than 50 percent increase, according to Zillow.

Under its contract with the state, Mountain West must keep the affordable rents for a period of 30 years. The developer can extend the contract to 60 years in exchange for forgiveness of the state loan.

The development costs averaged about $137,900 per unit, which is about half of the average development cost per unit for projects funded through the federal low-income tax credit development program, said Ariel Nelson, spokeswoman for OHCS.

“It looked like an expensive unit, and it’s very affordable for low-income families,” Brown said after a tour of the development.

Mountain West plans to work with case managers and service providers to place clients from transitional housing into Cornerstone. The development company will work with organizations such as ARCHES/Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, St. Francis Shelter, Center for Hope and Safety, United Gospel Mission and Salem Interfaith Hospitality, Nelson said.



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