Power line accident delays Salem affordable housing project opening

A city-run affordable housing project with space for 150 Salemites could be delayed two weeks in accepting residents after equipment struck the facility’s power lines.

The April 17 accident at Yaquina Hall occurred because a subcontractor for communication lines to the building had inaccurate or outdated information about ground markings, which showed where the power lines were located, according to Nicole Utz, Salem Housing Authority administrator.

The power had to be completely shut off to the building due to safety concerns until repairs could be made. Utz briefed Salem city councilors on the delay at an April 24 meeting.

The accident came two weeks before Yaquina Hall, a former nurses’ dormitory turned into 52 affordable apartments, was scheduled to start accepting residents on May 1. 

There will be 20 apartments reserved for people with serious and persistent mental illness. The project is expected to house up to 155 people.

Utz told Salem Reporter that “a large piece of equipment” hit seven of the eight main power lines going into the building. No one was injured during the incident.

Power is estimated to be restored on May 3, which has caused over a two-week delay in the final finishes and the housing authority’s move into the building before residents. The city agency manages the project.

“We are working with everyone involved with the construction and operations at Yaquina Hall to ensure we can make efficient use of time and hopefully not delay resident move-ins more than a week or two,” according to Utz.

She said the subcontractor’s insurance is working with the housing authority to make quick repairs to the building, which are estimated between $50,000 and $100,000. 

There is full-time security on site and the building is under a fire watch during the downtime. Those costs are included in the repair estimate.

The project at 2720 B St. N.E. broke ground in late 2021, following years of delays while Salem has faced a mounting shortage of housing. 

Tenants can use housing vouchers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development toward rent. Those making less than 60% of the area’s median income are eligible for such a subsidy.

A single person earning $33,240​ is at 60% of the Salem area’s median income. A family of four making $47,460 would also be at that level. 

Tenants would pay 30% of their income for rent, with the rest covered by the federal government. There is a years-long waiting list in Salem to get into housing with such vouchers. 

The Oregon Health Authority provided $6.1 million to help with the development.

Yaquina Hall will provide services to help homeless people and those with disabilities move toward permanent housing. They include services related to employment, education, healthcare management and treatment, according to Courtney Knox, the city’s strategic initiatives manager.

The accident came less than two weeks after observers crowded in the building’s entrance hall on April 5 to celebrate the project’s grand opening.

Budget documents obtained by Salem Reporter showed in April 2017, estimators pegged the cost to renovate Yaquina at $7.8 million. That rose to $13 million by November 2019.

Now, the project will cost about $18.6 million.

Part of the cost will be covered by a $10.8 million federal low-income housing tax credit and a $2.7 million historic tax credit.

Yaquina Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the housing authority’s website, and was built in 1947.


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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.