The Hope Plaza site at 450 Church Street Northeast in Salem in July 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Jayne Downing used to have a collage of sticky notes on her office door at the Center for Hope and Safety.
The items on them were a long-term wishlist of things survivors of domestic violence in Salem needed: permanent housing, job training.
Now, the center’s executive director said they’re close to making that wishlist a reality as they prepare to break ground next month on the long-awaited Hope Plaza, a three-story low-income apartment building with retail space in downtown Salem for people who have fled domestic violence.
When completed, Hope Plaza will have 20 apartments, all designed to Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards.
Though downtown Salem has several apartment complexes considered “affordable,” there are few low-income housing options in the city’s center. Downing said that’s crucial because survivors often experience financial abuse, like a partner taking their wages, forbidding them from working or racking up debt in their name.
“That’s one of the things we don’t have enough of in the downtown area is low-income housing,” she said. “For survivors starting over usually with nothing, what is affordable out in the community isn’t affordable for them.”
The project at 450 Church St. N.E. has been in the works since 2015, when the center bought the vacant Greyhound station next to its headquarters. In 2019, the nonprofit paid off the cost of the building and demolished it, hoping to begin construction on the empty lot in 2021.
The pandemic delayed that timeline as costs climbed, but the project hit a major milestone earlier this month after Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley secured $2 million in federal funds for the plaza in a federal appropriations bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law March 15.
Downing was watching live from her Salem home when Senators voted on the bill.
“You just don’t know if the votes are there to be able to do it. It was so exciting to have it happen,” she said. “It was exciting to see the support on both sides of the aisle.”
That money will add on to $7.5 million in state lottery bonds that Salem legislators secured for the project during the 2021 legislative session, and another $600,000 that state Sen. Deb Patterson, a Salem Democrat, and Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, a Salem Republican, designated from their federal Covid relief funds.
Altogether, Downing said they’ve raised $12.3 million toward an expected construction cost of $13.6 million, allowing them to kick off building in April without taking out a loan.
They hope to open Hope Plaza in October 2023.
Housing for domestic violence survivors is in short supply in Salem, and domestic violence is a significant contributing factor to homelessness, especially for women.
The Center for Hope and Safety has an emergency shelter which had space for about 20 people pre-pandemic, a number that decreased as Covid protocols meant they no longer roomed single women together.
In December, the nonprofit opened a former motel acquired through Project Turnkey, a state project to acquire old motels and convert them to shelters. That shelter, called Mosaic, offers longer-term transitional housing to survivors.
Downing said the agency’s staff have good relationships with landlords and work hard to find survivors housing in the community, but a lack of available rental options makes their work a challenge. Hope Plaza will alleviate some of that pressure.
“It also gives us the ability to help individuals that maybe have just some additional barriers and landlords aren’t willing to take a chance on them – we can,” she said.
Building plans include an open-air atrium in the building’s center and a ground floor for retail tenants. Downing said they aren’t signing leases until the building is closer to opening, but they’ve had some interest already. To get a lease, retailers will have to offer job training or other services to support the families living above them.
That will allow Hope Plaza to support residents in becoming self-sufficient and rebuilding their lives. Downing said they may choose to live in the building long-term or move on to other housing.
Income from rent and retail leases will make the project sustainable long-term, she said.
“It’s an honor to us to have that support,” Downing said. “It’s been a dream for a long time to do this.”
Correction: This article originally misspelled Sen. Jeff Merkley’s last name. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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