CORVALLIS - Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services is about to go into the hotel business. Well, sort of.
The city's' first brick building, the four-, once three, story, Georgian, once Queen Anne, structure has stood at the corner of Southwest 2nd and Monroe in downtown since 1892 when it opened as the Corvallis Hotel. Eighteen years later it was bought by Julian McFadden, the son of a Corvallis mayor and himself a stockman and, later, state senator, who renovated it and reopened it as The Julian in 1911 and would welcome and host guests to downtown Corvallis until the 1940's.
The grand-reopening as The Julian was a big deal, featuring a full dinner and a 6-piece orchestra to entertain the guests, reports the National Registry of Historic Places. The Julian, declared The Oregonian was one of the "finest" hotels in the state "outside of Portland."
120 years later, The Julian's seen better days. It closed its doors as a hotel in 1940 and, ever since, has served primarily as one of the only places where mostly low-income, mostly elderly or disabled residents can find affordable housing downtown.
There aren't many. So few, in fact, that in 2012 Northwest Housing Alternatives purchased it from its private owner to keep it affordable. "If this had gone on the market," the City of Corvallis' Kent Weiss told James Day of The Corvallis Gazette-Times, "long-term affordable housing would have been lost. This is the most affordable housing downtown."
And that's nothing to sneeze at. In Corvallis, affordable housing is in short supply. No wonder. It's a university town, home to. Oregon State University, in fact, with, in 2013, not much more than a smidgeon under 28,000 enrolled students. And growing.
"Corvallis renters, and especially lower-income renters, are also facing continued and growing challenges to their ability to secure safe, habitable and affordable housing," a City report concluded in 2013. "Pressure on both rental housing affordability and availability is being driven in large part by the rapidly growing student enrollment underway at Oregon State University."
You see it everywhere. Visit almost any neighborhood in Corvallis, in fact, and you'll see new housing being developed. But much of the housing's for students, not for people on fixed incomes, not for the elderly, not for the kinds of folks who make The Julian their home.
"Demand for off campus rental housing by students has driven a change in the way units are rented and leases configured," the City reported. "With growing frequency, multi-bedroom units that would have been rented under a single lease and single rental rate a few years ago are being leased by the bedroom, with a per-bedroom rental rate that when combined for all bedrooms, totals more—and sometimes significantly more—than what the unit earned previously under a single lease. This pattern is making it very difficult for families to find housing that is affordable, especially in the area around the OSU campus."
Which is why Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services has fought so hard and long to buy The Julian and, even better, why its executive director Jim Moorefield was so happy when, in January, the Corvallis City Council "unanimously," said The Gazette-Times, voted to provide $595,000 in HOME Investment Partnership funds allocated by HUD to the City for Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services to renovate the building.
It's enough, simply put, for Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services to seal the $8.2 million deal - which includes $3.7 million in extensive interior rehabilitation. Low Income Housing Tax Credit closing should take place this summer. And, once the rehab is completed in early 2015 and residents able to return - "no one is being permanently displaced" says Moorefield - the 35 units will remain affordable to renters at 50 percent or less of area median income for 60 years.
"This is an exciting project," Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning told The Gazette-Times after the vote. And, it should be noted, a long-lasting one.