Before moving into the Terrace Glen Apartments in Tigard, Rose shared a two-bedroom apartment with her parents and two teenage daughters for three years. She was working four jobs to pay the rent and bills, which meant she had little time to spend with her family. “It’s doable but it’s not sustainable,” she said. “You can do it to survive but you cannot sustain it. It’s crushing you. It is consuming every single bit of energy that you have.”
Starting from “below zero”
Rose came to the United States in 2002 as a political refugee. Back in her home country, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Rose had started working as a journalist at a newspaper known for criticizing the government. Her work there led to threatening letters and visits from government officials. Because of this history, Rose has asked that we not specify the country.
For her own safety and her family’s, she left her home and career, first arriving in Dallas, Texas. From there she went to Georgia, and California, and eventually settled in Oregon. The Portland area has been home for the past 17 years. Several years ago, her parents joined her, fleeing the increasingly volatile political situation in their home country.
“Things are really hard back home,” she explained. “I am so happy that they're here, they're safe. I can make sure that they have things that they need within reach... and also utilize their love and support.”
Rose described how much her daughters love living with their grandparents: “The presence of my parents in their life is so valuable,” she said, “because they've brought that jewel of information and the culture and language and everything that like, a regular family back in [my country] has. It’s the way we eat, what we eat, the culture around food and everything else.”
After years of struggling to support her family and experiencing guilt and shame that she couldn’t afford more, Rose knew she needed to make a change. As a social worker, she was used to helping others access support, but didn’t qualify for assistance herself because she was just over the income line. She compared her situation to that of many other households in the area who are just barely getting by and little more, paying rents that take the majority of their paycheck.
An opportunity: Terrace Glen
Then she found out about Terrace Glen, a new affordable housing complex in Tigard with 144 apartments, ranging from studios to four-bedrooms. They are designated for households making 30% AMI or less ($36,570 for a family of five) and 60% AMI or less ($73,140), with current rents between $592 to $1,706. Rose and her family were some of the first building's first tenants, moving in just before the grand opening in June.
Terrace Glen residents receive services from the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization, HomePlate, and EngAGE. These include arts education, health and wellness, and computer classes. The complex also has a community room and kitchen, teen lounge, arts and craft space, and parking for bicycles and cars. It’s located near public transit, retail, restaurants and healthcare services.
Metro’s affordable housing bond contributed $17.4 million of the building’s $54.2 million budget and Metro’s transit-oriented development program contributed an additional $500,000. It’s the 12th bond-funded apartment community to open.
At first, Rose was embarrassed to tell her employer she was applying for affordable housing. Then she realized it was important to share the reality of the economic situation she and so many households in the area are experiencing: Despite having a university degree and decades of professional experience, she was unable to afford market rents.
At Terrace Glen, Rose and her family are able to continue living together with the space they need, while paying rent she can afford. The building is also ADA accessible, which means her mother – who uses a walker – is able to navigate the corridor comfortably.
Additionally, the services offered mean Rose has help caring for her family, and her parents will have an easier time adjusting to life in a new country. Rose has previous experience working in affordable housing development and recalled a low-income building where the tenants were not successful due to lack of services. Elements like a food pantry and access to transit are really important, she explained, “almost as important as the housing itself.”
A brighter future
Since moving in last month, the change has been transformative for Rose’s wellbeing. “I find myself thinking about the hobbies that I have forgotten about for a few years,” she said, remembering how consumed she was by the stress of trying to make ends meet. Now she finds herself listening to music again and is thinking about rejoining her hiking group and some of her other social circles. She is also able to focus exclusively on her full-time job as a social worker instead of trying to balance four jobs.
“You feel at ease when the rent is affordable,” she said. She’s no longer “chasing [her] own tail” to provide for her family. “When my family’s happy, that’s a big stress off my shoulders,” she said. “The space is bigger, it meets our needs, my kids are happy – so that stress is gone.”
In the long-term, Rose can now see a future where she would be able to buy a home for her family, so they don’t have to start “from below zero” like she did when she first arrived.
For the time being Rose looks forward to her family experiencing a sense of belongingness and community in a way they haven’t before. When asked what this would feel like, she explained it’s where “you feel like you don’t have to pretend anymore” and you can truly be yourself and be comfortable with all of your differences. It’s also knowing that if you have a dish of food to share, there’s someone to share it with.
As recent immigrants who have left their home community, it’s important for her parents to be around other people their age. “They were so excited to see that a couple of ladies who have moved into our floor where around the same age and they already have that bonding and hellos and byes.” Her mom has already shared food. “This is what I’m after: that sense of belonging.”
She also wants her children to be active in their community. This summer they’re both doing internships with a community development organization. “I want them to be a part of what's happening around them,” she said. “It's just so good to be living in the same neighborhood as where they go to school, because now they can have the same community all across. This is a very new feeling to my family.”