When Metro Council members and staff visited Janice Foster’s apartment as part of a recent tour of affordable homes, she danced in a circle around her kitchen.
“Back when I had my house, my kitchen was so big, I always said I wished I had a kitchen where I could reach everything,” she told her visitors, touching the stove, the refrigerator, and a countertop in turn. “So this is like a dream come true!”
In 2012, Foster lost her home in Southern California after ongoing medical problems left her unable to work. She was 65 years old. She moved back to Oregon, where she was raised, and rented a one-bedroom apartment in Hillsboro’s Orenco Station neighborhood. She said she sometimes felt isolated among the young and upwardly mobile neighbors in her building, but she was glad to have public transportation and her doctor’s office close by.
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The next year, the rent on her apartment jumped from $975 to $1,300.
“I panicked,” Foster said. “But then I saw the building going up across the street.”
The building under construction was Alma Gardens, a 45-home development by the nonprofit Northwest Housing Alternatives that serves people 55 and older whose incomes are below 60 percent of the region’s median income, currently about $31,000 for a single adult. A one-bedroom apartment at Alma Gardens rents for about $600.
From the outside, Alma Gardens looks like the other attractive apartment buildings that make up the transit-friendly, planned urban community at Orenco Station. Inside, the building was designed with older adults in mind, from low pile carpeting to wider doorways and halls that accommodate residents with a variety of mobility needs. An on-site manager and resident services coordinator provide a wealth of health and wellness resources along with social opportunities for the community. A large garden with raised beds means people can grow fresh, healthy food that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
“If you want to know what I love about this place, the answer is everything,” Foster said. “I went right over on the first day they opened the doors, and I was the fourth person to sign a lease.”
Foster was in the right place at the right time. The demand for affordable homes in the greater Portland region far outstrips supply. Today, Alma Gardens has a waiting list more than 90 names long - enough to fill two more buildings of the same size. The person now at the top of the list has been waiting for an opening since 2014.
As housing costs in greater Portland continue to rise year by year, many people at or near retirement are facing rent increases greater than they can afford, causing some people to forego medicine, eat less than is healthy for them, and, in the worst cases, lose their homes altogether. Statewide, at least one in four renters, and two-thirds or more of very low income renters, spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent.
Metro’s recent tours of local homes come as the council considers whether to ask voters about a bond measure that would build and protect safe, permanently affordable homes for low income seniors, working families, and other vulnerable people across the Portland region.
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