Addressing housing issues in a small county like Wallowa can seem daunting. However, there is at least one success story in a community much smaller than Wallowa County and even smaller than the City of Wallowa.
In 2010 an action group called the Pine Valley Economic Development Group decided to address the housing situation for aging citizens on fixed incomes the city of Richland in Baker County (population 156). Residents were moving out of the community because the only housing available was 30 to 40 miles away.
The Pine Valley Economic Development Group, led by chairman Chuck Rouse at the time, was a 501c3 originally formed in Halfway for a project that never was funded. The nonprofit designation and $3,000 in a bank account were transferred to the Richland group, and they went to work.
“We had to get an exception to the criteria established by the state that based need on the number of people in the county relative to housing available,” Rouse said.
“They looked at the logistics of how far people from Richland had to drive to find housing and saw there was an issue.”
The group also identified a possible building for senior housing, an abandoned elementary school in the town.
They enlisted the aid of Northeast Oregon Housing Authority, which serves Grant, Union, Baker and Wallowa County.
“That only took trips to La Grande talking to directors,” Rouse said.
Dale Inslee, executive director of the authority, said his agency took over much of the work from there.
“They let us know of the need and then worked with the city council to promote the project and explain it to the public,” he said.
The housing authority, for its part, conducted the studies necessary, made a proposal to the Oregon Housing Community Grant Program and found funding for the project from other sources including HOME Investment Partnership Program Grants, Oregon Affordable Housing Tax Credits, Trust Fund, GHAP, and a land gift.
The gift was the donation, by the school district, of the abandoned elementary school.
“NEOHA took title to the property, and they had all of the necessary studies done,” Rouse said. “If you put together an organization like ours and don’t have the assistance of a partner like NEOHA, you will have to go through all of the hoops” alone.
Freed of the logistics of finding primary funding for the housing, Pine Valley Group focused on retrofitting for the project. They went on to find grants for retrofitting. The Oregon Community Foundation, the Adler Foundation, Meyer Foundation and Ford Foundation eventually funded the group to the tune of $170,000.
The tiny town of Richland now has a 10-unit low-income development that is also the community hub with a gymnasium, public meeting rooms, kitchen used by clubs and for private parties and the town’s public library.
Pinnacle Architecture of Bend built Richland School Apartments.
It is the same company that built the 38-unit Blue Spring workforce housing complex in Island City.