Cathedral Village in the St. Johns area, being developed with Catholic Charities in partnership with Related Northwest, is the first new housing development to help achieve the initiative’s goals. The new apartment building will provide 110 units of permanent housing for low-income individuals and families. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)
Cathedral Village in the St. Johns area, being developed with Catholic Charities in partnership with Related Northwest, is the first new housing development to help achieve the initiative’s goals. The new apartment building will provide 110 units of permanent housing for low-income individuals and families. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)

An upcoming 110-unit affordable housing development and affordable housing integrated with a parish are the first steps in an ambitious initiative to address homelessness in Portland.

Catholic Charities, the Archdiocese of Portland and Providence Health and Services launched the “Healthy Housing Initiative” in January. The initiative aims to reduce chronic homelessness in the Portland Metro area by 20% over the next five years, leveraging the resources and know-how of the three organizations as well as public and private partners.

Cathedral Village in the St. Johns area, being developed with Catholic Charities in partnership with Related Northwest, is the first new housing development to help achieve the initiative’s goals. The new apartment building will provide 110 units of permanent housing for low-income individuals and families. More than half of the units will be two- and three-bedroom apartments for low-income families, and eight units will be reserved for people who have been chronically homeless or are at imminent risk of homelessness. Dedicated services will be provided for formerly homeless residents to help ensure their stability and success in housing. Construction of the project is slated to begin in late 2020, with homes ready for move-in in early 2022.

To achieve the goals of the initiative, Catholic Charities is looking at other partnerships too, including projects with parishes and developments located on parish campuses.

“We’re really talking about land that can be re-purposed on church property. We’re talking about buildings that may not be in use,” said Deacon Richard Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon.

On Feb. 9, Catholic Charities and St. Philip Neri Parish will host an open house to present initial concepts for affordable housing integrated with the parish property. The open house is the culmination of several months of work between Catholic Charities and the parish to explore shared interest and benefits of affordable housing and how it could be potentially located on the property, including preservation of two parish buildings built in the early 1900s. Initial concepts and information will be presented for parish and community feedback in the parish’s Carvlin Hall.

Any housing with below-market rent is a “huge need” in Portland, but the social services Catholic Charities provides for residents are what makes the difference for residents to become or remain stable in their housing, said Rose Bak, director of homelessness and housing for Catholic Charities. At Catholic Charities housing, on-site programs are tailored to the residents living in each building — programs like health check-ups and job searches, fitness classes or homework clubs. And for residents moving into an apartment after experiencing homelessness, dedicated services and case management are even more important, she said.

Case managers work directly with formerly homeless residents to help with basics like finding food and clothing pantries, securing employment and health care, or navigating budgets and bills. Additional support will also ensure residents can get mental health counseling and addiction treatment, if needed.

“We meet people where they are and give them a hand to overcome challenges,” said Travis Phillips, Director of Community Development and Housing for Catholic Charities.

Previously, Catholic Charities has worked with other parishes and partners to build new housing and to ensure services are available for residents who need it. In 2017, the agency completed construction of 106 apartments on the grounds of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Southeast Portland. Many of the apartments at St. Francis Park are prioritized for households who have been homeless, a priority expressed by the parish as the apartments were being development.

In addition to partnerships with parishes, Catholic Charities works closely with local government to address the region’s housing crisis. Cathedral Village, for example, was awarded $16.3 million through a competitive application process that allocated funds from Portland’s voter-approved housing bond measure, which dedicated $258.4 million to create 1,300 units of affordable housing throughout Portland. Funding for the services will come, in part, from county tourism taxes. A portion of those taxes were committed by the city and county in late 2019 for homeless service programs.

“We are glad to make such a substantial investment for families in St. Johns,” said Martha Calhoon, spokesperson for the Portland Housing Bureau. The city has worked frequently with Catholic Charities and Related Northwest and considers both “valuable partners,” she said.

Additional developments that aim to help achieve the Healthy Housing Initiative’s goals of addressing chronic homelessness are in early concept stages. Catholic Charities and partners are evaluating projects in Clackamas and Washington counties as well as Portland in order to meet the initiative’s goal of having 300 new homes under development by 2025.