USDA grant will help remake Heppner apartments

The Mountain Glen Apartments in Heppner are getting a complete makeover thanks to a $7.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support affordable housing in four rural counties.

The money will support a project by Glenhaven Park LLC to purchase four aging low-income apartment complexes, including Mountain Glen, and complete a top-to-bottom renovation. The project will include new siding, roofs, landscaping, windows, doors, lighting, floors, appliances and more.

Shelly Cullin, development director for Chrisman Development Inc., said Chrisman will complete the renovations of the 24 units in Mountain Glen, a project with a $4.7 million total cost.

She said the renovation will start in May 2021. A few tenants at a time will be moved out of their apartments for about three to five days to complete the interior portion of their apartment, but Cullin said contractors can usually move furniture from room to room instead of requiring the apartment to be emptied, and the developer will pay for a place for the tenants to stay during their remodel.

The complex is affordable housing for low-income residents. Erin McDuff, a USDA spokesperson, said the USDA grant is targeted to helping preserve housing options for low-income families who would not otherwise be able to afford rent.

In a joint statement, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley applauded the USDA’s grant for the project.

“Everyone – regardless of the color of their skin, their ZIP code, or their income – deserves a safe place to call home, especially during a pandemic,” Merkley stated. “But we still have a long way to go, in our rural and urban communities alike, to meet serious affordable housing shortages. I’m grateful that these resources are headed to Oregon where they will help tackle this urgent problem in some of our rural communities, and will continue to do all that I can to secure the support needed in every corner of our state to put roofs over Oregonians’ heads.”

Kraig Cutsforth, Heppner city manager, said like many Eastern Oregon communities, Heppner has a housing shortage that can make it difficult to attract people to the community.

“I don’t think our vacancy rate is even 1%,” he said. “We have trouble finding a place for people coming in.”

He said while the significant investment into a current property is positive, what Heppner really needs is new housing units added to the community of about 1,300 people, particularly for people in the wage range of a nurse or teacher. Cutsforth said current conditions — from lumber prices to the commute for construction firms — discourage housing developers from coming to Heppner.

“The rents don’t cover the cost of construction,” he said.

He said the Willow Creek Valley Economic Development Group is working on solutions. One of the volunteer organization’s goals is encouraging economic development through improved housing opportunities.

Another housing preservation grant announced by the USDA, to the tune of $250,000, will help low-income members in rural communities “make vital repairs and remove health and safety hazards to their homes.”

As part of that grant, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation will receive $50,000 to give money to 10 low-income tribal members for repairs to their homes such as a new roof, upgraded electrical system or improved accessibility for disabled residents.

“Many families struggle to afford necessary but costly repairs to their homes, especially low-income households and seniors with fixed incomes,” USDA Rural Development Director for Oregon John Huffman said in a statement. “These grants will give families peace of mind and help them to safely remain in their rural communities and homes.”