Hundreds of affordable housing units to open next year in south Salem

Up to 900 families and seniors could move into new affordable housing in Salem’s South Gateway neighborhood by next summer, ending a years-long effort to redevelop the area as the city faces a historic housing crisis.

More details have emerged on the ambitious housing project by Community Development Partners. The Portland housing developer started construction last year to build 313 two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments on Southeast Salal Street, near Kuebler Boulevard.

The new apartments, called Mahonia Crossing, will be open to people earning 30% to 80% of the Salem area’s median income, according to Eric Paine, the developer’s chief executive officer.

A family of four earning $23,730 is at the lower end in Marion County, and one making $63,280 is at 60% of the area’s median income, according to a press release.

The $115 million project is primarily paid for by funding from the state’s Housing and Community Services Department which helps fast-track affordable housing development through a competitive grant process.

Funding for the development also includes federal HOME Investment Partnership dollars awarded by the city of Salem, which pay for services like rental assistance and building or buying affordable housing. 

Rent costs would vary based on apartment size and a resident’s income, Paine said.

Digital renderings of the future Mahonia Crossing property, 5120 Salal St. S.E. (Community Development Partners)

The Salem Housing Authority also will issue 56 vouchers to subsidize rent for low-income people. Tenants would pay 30% of their income for rent, with the rest covered by the vouchers. There is a years-long waiting list in Salem to get into housing with such vouchers. 

The project is intended to build a community for people of all ages. EngAGE Northwest, a California nonprofit, will provide tenants onsite with a variety of services and programming that brings together people born generations apart. 

“The idea of separating seniors from families and children, I don’t think it was a bad idea when someone started the idea,” said Tim Carpenter, the nonprofit’s CEO. “But there is a growing and larger population of seniors who want to just live in an organic, intergenerational community, and we’re living in one of the most age-diverse populations that this country has ever seen. We’re seeing the ability to have three, four, even five generations living together.”

Carpenter said older adults and children were among those hit hardest by the pandemic, compounding what for many seniors was already a “pandemic of isolation and loneliness.”

“We’re trying to design programs and communities that give people a sense of belonging and purpose, and a reason to get up in the morning,” he said.

Paine said 184 of the apartments will be open by the end of the year, with 16 reserved for agricultural workers and their families – though more agricultural workers can apply for other apartments on the site. 

The rest of the apartments will open by August 2024, with 113 prioritized for wildfire survivors.

Managers will conduct outreach online and in-person, working with state and service agencies in the region to reach as many people as possible who have been displaced by fires.

An aerial shot at the construction site for Mahonia Crossing, which project leaders say will have 313 apartments in Salem’s South Gateway neighborhood. (Community Development Partners)

Mahonia Crossing will house between 750 and 900 people, according to Paine.

He said he began working on the development two years ago, but the vision for the project dates back decades.

Local planner and developer John Miller, who sold the site to Paine’s agency, began stewarding the large swath of land in the 1970s. The area now includes neighborhoods of single-family and multi-family homes, Pringle Elementary School, parks and wetlands.

The two became connected in a group that was seeking to bring a world-class botanical garden to Portland. When Paine told Miller about his agency’s work, Miller mentioned he had a site he wanted them to take a look at.

The work currently being done to open Mahonia Crossing includes “the final pieces of his big master plan,” Paine said of Miller.

The apartments are named after Miller’s development company, Wildwood/Mahonia, and his nearby Mahonia Vineyards and Nursery, according to the press release.

“I had saved this site for senior and/or affordable housing but realized that I did not have the expertise, resources, or time to do the site justice, so I began to search for someone who did,” Miller wrote in the press release.

Paine told Salem Reporter it has been a challenge for his agency to build senior housing because most funding sources have been largely focused on serving large families. 

“It’s kind of left the senior population out,” he said. “Part of the ‘community for all ages’ concept is it was a solution to that. But as we got deeper into it, we realized that there’s so many benefits to the intergenerational component.”

Carpenter’s organization has helped create such living spaces for over 20 years, starting in California and expanding to Oregon in recent years.

The site will have a senior building in the middle, an elevator and apartments designed for older adults and a fitness center. Another large community center intended for all residents will have gathering spaces, a movie and game room, a library, computer stations and a “demonstration kitchen” for events and classes, according to the press release.

Paine said there will also be an open courtyard where kids can play and people can picnic.

“The physical design is all about creating reasons for people to bump into each other, to have interaction in natural ways,” according to Carpenter.

He said the arrangement allows for a senior building filled with dozens of grandparents to look after kids while their parents are at work.

“We have a lot of social issues in this country, I think, that can be simply solved within affordable housing by doing this with the cost of child care, with the worry of after school programming, with homework preparation, that when when parents get home they’re tired,” he said.

But that community relationship wouldn’t be a one-way street, Carpenter said. Kids can participate in adults’ lives and help them with things like technology and chores, while learning the importance of caring for neighbors.

“This idea that the community flourishes across ages just makes so much sense,” he said.

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.