With a mountain of trash blighting the property, an Alderbrook home foreclosed last year after decades of disrepair. But its potential value was obvious. It offers a scenic view of the Columbia River and it was in a scene in the series finale of the popular show “Dexter.”
Instead of hiring someone to remove the trash and preparing it for auction, Clatsop County chose a route that other counties have tried but is unique locally. The county handed the 51st Street property over to Community Action Team and Clatsop Community Action, two nonprofit organizations. The debris has been cleared, and the organizations plan to list the home for sale and use the proceeds to build low-income housing units in the future.
“I thought it was a very inventive idea,” CCA Executive Director Elaine Bruce said.
The move also may signal a new tactic for the county as it struggles with low-income housing shortages.
“I think it’s changed all of our thinking on it,” county Assessment and Taxation Director Suzanne Johnson said.
County Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan lives in Alderbrook and sees the derelict property often. Earlier this year, she approached Bruce and county staff with an alternative idea for the foreclosed property. Her original vision was different from what the project eventually became.
“When I saw that house, I said, ‘Boy, it would be a perfect co-op,’” Sullivan said. “It seemed like a nice fit.”
The county slated the property, designated one of the top five nuisance properties, for auction in January after it was foreclosed in October. But after Sullivan pitched her idea a few weeks later, the property was removed from the auction list. Citing a county policy and state law that allows for the transfers of properties to nonprofits, the Board of Commissioners voted to hand them the house key.
Johnson has worked for the county for more than 34 years. Responsible for collecting taxes, Johnson admits she initially was leery of simply giving a property to a tax-exempt organization.
“We saw dollar signs in our eyes,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? We’re just going to give it away?’”
But after further discussion, Johnson warmed to the idea. She learned that the nonprofits, rather than convert the home into a low-income housing unit, planned to ready the house for sale.
Because of the scenic view and cultural significance, it made more sense for the organizations to partially fix it, flip it to a buyer, split money from the sale and save for future housing projects.
“Do you build an affordable house with a view like that? Or do you get it on the tax rolls and take that money and do something else with it,” Casey Michell, the Community Action Team’s single-family housing director, said at a Board of Commissioners meeting. “It would be nice if people with low incomes had good views, but funds are so scarce right now. We’re just trying to get as many people in houses as we can.”
The county will not be able to recoup more than $21,000 in taxes owed on the property after eight years of nonpayment. But once the house is sold to a new owner, the county hopes to see a steady stream of tax payments.
Fixing the property proved not to be a simple task, however.
Roughly 100,000 pounds of debris needed to be removed from the property before it could be fixed and sold. Despite its assets, an appraiser estimated the market value of the house was just over $38,000 immediately after foreclosure.
“When you have a structure that is that full of stuff, the market is really low,” Mitchell said.
Days before the commissioners’ decision, Mitchell and a group of workers began the arduous task of cleaning it out and performing other tasks like installing plywood. But they were not lacking community support. Neighbors, thrilled that the home would be beautified, observed as workers removed the junk and even offered to let them use tools, Mitchell said.
“It’s been like a parade these last three days,” Mitchell said at the meeting. “They’re so excited and very friendly.”
Larry Bryant, an Alderbrook resident, expressed his support at a meeting for refurbishing the house and turning it into a single-family home.
“After many years of continuing decline on this eyesore property in Alderbrook, it is a great relief to finally see hope for its renovation and the enhancement of the surrounding neighborhood in Alderbrook,” Bryant said.
Mitchell said no major structural damage, save some dry rot in the kitchen and an awkward layout after a past attempt to turn it into a duplex, were spotted after the cleanup. Workers did, however, uncover a garage that had been blocked from view by storage sheds by as long as neighbors could remember.
The nonprofits will spend more than $60,000 cleaning and renovating the home before it’s sold, Mitchell said. His target price once it’s listed for sale is between $90,000 and $150,000.
“I’m kind of hopeful someone is going to fall in love with it,” Mitchell said.
He and others are also hopeful that this model can be replicated with other county properties. Sullivan said she was happy with the outcome of the property, though she stressed the county should start acting more aggressively to open opportunities for low-income and cooperative housing.
“It has to be a whole community concern,” Sullivan said. “We need to be creative and committed in creating a housing inventory.”