Case Study

Timber Ridge Apartments in La Grande, OR 

6 min read

Putting A Dent in NE Oregon’s Affordable Need

Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects are always looking to make an impact. A four percent project in northeast Oregon underway is seeking to make a huge impact – to put a big dent into the affordable housing need in its area. 

That’s according to Sarah J. Parker, executive director of Northeast Oregon Housing Authority (NEOHA), the public housing authority (PHA) in thinly populated Union County, where 26,000 people live. 

The Timber Ridge Apartments project will be owned and operated by NEOHA on a 4.8-acre site. Still, it has had to bring in an outside developer, Community Development Partners (CDP), as NEOHA does not have the capacity to develop a project with such large ambitions. 

Timber Ridge will include 82 one- to four-bedroom units. That’s down from an even grander original 104 units, a number that had to be pared back when pandemic lumber prices went through the roof. But nothing else seems to have been pared back. 

The project, in the Union County seat of La Grande, has an ambitious goal to go beyond Net Zero (where a building’s energy output, such as through a photovoltaic array, equals 100 percent of its energy use) to 110 percent through solar paneling, a plan, which has earned it Solar Investment Tax Credits (ITC), as well as LIHTCs. 

“It’s a unique project all the way around,” says Parker, “specifically designed (by Community Development Partners) to be efficient to operate.” 

Its tenant base will be diverse, from big families (it has two four-bedroom units) down to one-bedroom apartments. It will be intergenerational and will include ten units for those living with HIV, who will benefit from a rental subsidy through Oregon Housing Opportunities in Partnership. The project also will have 35 project-based Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) units and will have some units set aside for people living with HIV/AIDS. 

It Makes a Village 
“It’s going to be its own little village, with an intergenerational setup and services,” Parker says. 

La Grande is an agricultural community of about 13,000, Parker says, but it is also a college town (Eastern Oregon University) with some industry, like lumber mills and a trailer factory. 

Will there be more projects like this in NEOHA’s service area in the future, where there’s a need for another 600 units? “It’s a topic of discussion,” Parker acknowledges. 

A housing coat of many colors, Timber Ridge has many partners, all of whom seem enthusiastic about building a real community rather than just an apartment complex. These include NEOHA, developer CDP, state housing agency Oregon Housing and Community Services, tax credit syndicator Hunt Capital Partners, permanent lender Citibank, construction lender Washington Federal and the Center for Public Interest Design (CPID), a research center at Portland State University that looks to design living places for underserved populations. 

Bremik Construction is the general contractor and Ink:Built Architecture is the project architect. Construction is underway and the work is scheduled to be completed in September of 2023. 

When finished, the unit mix will be 34 one-bedroom units, 26 two-bedroom units, 20 three-bedroom units and two four-bedroom units. 

CPID came up with two different color palettes for both common spaces and apartment interiors, with the idea of providing calm and healing environments for people who have experienced trauma in their lives. 

Parker describes the first palette as being composed of gray, brown, light teal, off-white, and a darker flake blue, and the second one as being gray and brown with cream and green. The housing authority made the final choice of palettes. 

Designer CPID called Timber Ridge “a rich collaboration” with many partners and says, “it has been both unique and satisfying, from its financing to the inclusion of stakeholders’ voices in defining and designing Timber Ridge and its community assets.” 

A New Affordable Template 
The designer says Timber Ridge can serve as a template for a new kind of affordable housing, one that is oriented from the bottom up rather than the top down. 

“In the process, the inclusion of the many voices and contributions from the La Grande community identified by CPID, support the very real possibility that when this project finally opens in La Grande, it will be a vital part of the community, where its residents and the greater community are welcome and thrive together.” 

The designer put together an unusually detailed 100-page book on the project, including things like geography, demographics, housing (45 percent of renters are considered rent burdened), a number of maps and an in-depth study of relationships possible with dozens of companies and agencies. 

Total financing on the development is $38.2 million. Hunt Capital Partners (HCP) is the syndicator on $15.7 million in Federal LIHTC and ITC equity financing for Timber Ridge through one of its multi-investor groups interested in ESG (environmental, social and governance) financing. 

Besides the housing and solar credits, HCP says the financing includes Washington Federal providing tax-exempt bond financing of $19.7 million. There will also be two soft loans provided, one by the Oregon Housing and Community Services in a Multifamily Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) loan for $7.9 million and the other from NEOHA in Emergency Gap Funding for $4.7 million.  

The construction will also receive two grants totaling $135,000, which will be structured as additional soft loans from NEOHA. Citi Community Capital will provide a permanent loan of $6.95 million. 

Timber Ridge has incorporated into its design an 8,000 square-foot community building as a hub for youth, families and seniors to congregate in a large gathering space for multigenerational meals and social events. The community building will also offer residents office and study spaces, a classroom and an early childhood education center, where Eastern Oregon University will operate a “Head Start” program at no cost to residents, according to HCP. Since its inception in 2010, one of HCP’s areas of focus has been investing in affordable housing projects that provide supportive and social services for special communities, such as survivors of domestic and sexual violence, homeless veterans and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. HCP has extensive experience in successfully underwriting and structuring special needs deals and including these projects in its tax credit funds. 

At the August groundbreaking for the project, representatives of the wide array of agencies and companies collaborating on this project present included Parker; Eric Paine, CEO of developer CDP; Commissioner Paul Anderes of Union County; La Grande City Manager Robert Strope; Bryan Guiney, Oregon Field Office director; Andrea Bell, executive director of Oregon Housing & Community Services; Maria Rojo de Steffey, regional director, EngAGE Northwest, the project’s service provider; and Robert Kleng, EOU Head Start director.  

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.