PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Mercy Housing Northwest owns and operates 54 affordable housing properties in Washington and Idaho — but none in Oregon.
That will soon change, however, as the nonprofit dedicated to “redefining affordable, low-income housing” has partnered with the Sisters of the Holy Names organization for an affordable housing development at the old Marylhurst University campus (which is now referred to as Marylhurst Commons). The project crystallized in the years following Marylhurst’s permanent closure in 2018. On Thursday, Oct. 21, representatives from Mercy Housing, the Sisters of the Holy Names and Carleton Hart Architecture gathered for a virtual community meeting to answer a slew of questions about the incoming development.
“We know workers in Lake Oswego have challenges finding housing close to where they work,” Mercy Housing Real Estate Director Colin Morgan-Cross said. “We just believe long-term affordable housing is essential to vibrant communities.”
Marylhurst University, which was founded in 1893 and known as the oldest Catholic university in Oregon, closed due to declining enrollment numbers. The site, located along Highway 43 near the border of West Linn, houses 14 existing buildings — five of which are historic landmarks and not subject to development. The intention is to replace three existing dormitories and build the housing development there.
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At the end of last year, the Lake Oswego City Council unanimously voted to approve code amendments to allow for affordable multi-family housing at Marylhurst Commons. This past June, Mercy Housing received $4.25 million in funding for the project from the Oregon Housing and Community Service office.
“We would not have won this award from the state if we didn’t have a strong track record with the ability to operate affordable housing well in the long term,” Mercy Housing Project Developer Chris Bendix said.
The community meeting was required by the city of Lake Oswego as part of the project design process and peaked at about 150 attendees via Zoom. This video conference allowed the project team to present more concrete details about the proposal.
The development will be between three and four stories, featuring about 100 units that vary from one to three bedrooms. It will also feature an indoor community space for various adult and children’s services — the latter of which will be offered year-round (including during school breaks and the summer). Most families at the development will earn between $55,000 and $60,000 per year, according to the project team.
“The booming housing market really has been a bust for families,” Morgan-Cross said.
Questions from community members covered topics ranging from traffic to security, environmental preservation and future plans elsewhere on the Marylhurst property.
“We know parking and traffic are always a hot topic, for good reason,” Morgan-Cross said, adding that a traffic analysis would be completed as part of the design process. “We also know many of the workers who live in the building will use public transit on Highway 43 … We’re focusing on working families and the building will serve people who are likely already working in the area, which could make commutes shorter.”
As for safety, Mercy Housing representatives said they’ve seen many of their developments elsewhere become “pillars of the community.”
“A lot of it goes back to our (community) programs,” Morgan-Cross said. “And with that, people will want to take care of their communities as well.”
Some of the youth programs will be available to the general public and Mercy Housing representatives said they’d reached out to the Lake Oswego School District to begin coordinating these efforts.
The development footprint is expected to be similar to the old dorm buildings it will be replacing, and other buildings and open spaces won’t be affected.
“We see this residential community as being part of the campus,” said Brian Carleton, principal at Carleton Hart Architecture. “We spent a lot of time trying to observe, and really absorb the life of the campus.”
Sister Maureen Delaney of the Sisters of the Holy Names added that there aren’t plans for any other new buildings on campus, though they do lease some of the existing structures to nonprofits for certain activities.
Moving forward, the land use application for the property is expected to be submitted to the city of Lake Oswego within the next couple of months. The hope is for construction to begin in the summer of 2022, with the development opening in the fall of 2023.