Affordable housing for veterans to be built at former church

Construction will begin in the coming days to remodel a downtown Salem church into affordable apartments for veterans transitioning out of homelessness.

Housing developer DevNW is seeking to build 17 studio and one-bedroom apartments for veterans over the next year on the former Evergreen Church property on Northeast Cottage Street.

Nine of those apartments will be permanent supportive housing, which provide affordable leases with social, health and job services for people who are homeless, institutionalized or at risk of either. 

The development comes over two years after the Salem City Council approved the church property to be rezoned and used for multi-family housing.

Paid for by state and federal funding, the new Evergreen Veterans Apartments will be open to veteran renters with incomes below 80% of the area’s median income, which was $62,185 as of 2021, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The apartments are also intended to be the next step for people leaving Tanner Project, a transitional shelter for unhoused veterans.

The work is set to begin as Oregon’s cap on rent increases is the highest it has been since legislators passed SB 608 in 2019, a law that made Oregon the first state with a statewide rent control. It also comes as record inflation rates continue to strain low-income residents struggling to pay for basic needs.

Project leaders expect the building will be leased by mid 2024 or sooner, according to Erin Dey, director of real estate development for DevNW. The nonprofit is the official state-designated group to help with foreclosures in Marion and Polk counties

DevNW owns the site and has contracted with Meili Construction to build the apartments at 905 Cottage St. N.E., Dey said. The redevelopment at the church will leave its exterior and parsonage intact.

The project received about $1.75 million of federal HOME Investment Partnership dollars, which pay for services like rental assistance and building or buying affordable housing.

The bulk of that funding will pay for construction, according to city spokeswoman Nicole Miller.

Oregon Housing and Community Services provided about $4.2 million to help pay for the redevelopment. Evergreen can also receive up to $90,000 per year for rent assistance from the agency, and another $90,000 per year to help pay for services for the residents who are coming out of homelessness. The contract with the state spans 15 years and can be renewed, agency spokeswoman Delia Hernández said.

Dey said rent at the new apartments will vary between $400 and $800 per month depending on a resident’s income and any social security they are receiving for housing costs.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency will provide individual case management and behavioral health services for people living at the apartments. Residents will also have access to “barrier removal” funding for needs like IDs, birth certificates and bus passes, according to Sara Webb, program director for Community Action.

“Salem, like all of Oregon, is experiencing a historic housing crisis, including housing shortages, rising homelessness, and increasing rent burdens,” DevNW CEO Emily Reiman said in the press release.

In Salem, 22.6% of residents spend more than half of their income on rent, according to the statement. Veterans represent 5.3% of the city’s population. Across Marion and Polk Counties, 10% of homeless people identify as veterans.

“That is wholly unacceptable to me. This project is part of the solution, and we need many more like it,” Salem Mayor Chris Hoy said in the release.

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that Miller said the bulk of the project’s federal dollars were for construction, and she did not refer to state funding.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.