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Gap Closing


Residents of the Bridge Meadows complex
 

PORTLAND - The Great Recession could have stopped America in its tracks. Good ideas would have been shelved, good projects would never have gotten off the ground.

That would have been really bad news for the kids and seniors hoping to make their home at Bridge Meadows, an affordable rental complex in north Portland planned for a City-owned parcel once the site of an elementary school. The plan was that almost half the $12 million cost to build Bridge Meadows would come from capital raised through the U.S. Treasury Department's Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. The tax credit program is market-sensitive, working great when the market's up, not so well when it's down.

It's a pretty straightforward to raise capital. Investors looking to reduce their tax exposure purchase the credits. Sale proceeds are then used by a non-profit to develop housing affordable to households at 60 percent or less of the area median income. More than 2 million units have built using tax credits since the program was established in in 1986. In a normal year about 100,000 new units come on-line. 

In late 2008, though, things turned abnormal. Just about the time the non-profit developers of Bridge Meadows were ready to break ground, the economy hit the skids. The housing market collapsed. Wall Street crashed and tax credit investors ran scared and scarce. Tax credits weren't selling and that left Bridge Meadows' developers with a gap of some $2 million that had to be closed before they could move forward.

Enter the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that appropriated billions to reignite our economy, including $2.25 billion to HUD for the Tax Credit Assistance Program. TCAP, explained, HUD Secretary Donovan, would "jump start" hundreds of tax credit developments stalled by the economic downturn and the flight of investment capital away from housing market.

A jump start was exactly what Bridge Meadows needed. So too did at least a dozen other stalled affordable housing projects across the state. On September 29, 2009, Oregon Housing and Community Services' State Housing Council approved TCAP funding for all 13 projects. Bridge Meadows was ready to go. The first families moved took up residence in the spring of 2011.

Having closed its financing gap, Bridge Meadows now got on with the "gap" it really cared about - the one between the old and the young. With nine detached homes for families and 27 one- and two-bedroom apartments for people 55 and older, Bridge Meadows is one of the first affordable housing developments in America deliberately designed and built to be intergenerational.

All of the kids at Bridge Meadows come out of the state's foster care system and are in the process of being adopted. Were it not for Bridge Meadow, they'd probably be destined for an orphanage or, even, life on the streets. Instead, they live in a home at Bridge Meadows where they're being raised by their new parents.

And also raised by the "Elders," those 55-and-older residents who also call Bridge Meadows "home." Each and every one of them is encouraged, reports Rebecca Hoffman of The Oregonian, to "commit to volunteering 10 hours a week in the community" and, most importantly, to help mentor the kids.

April Davis, one of the adoptive parents, loves the idea. She's seen "elders hemming pajamas and pants for the kids, sewing their stuffed toys, bringing 'round apple crisp and birthday cake." Others take the kids to and from school or give them music lessons.

The health of many of the elderly residents, both physical and mental, has improved since they moved in, says Bridge Meadows executive director Derenda Schubert, "The elders, talk of feeling needed, of having something to do."

That's certainly true for Joy and Jim Corcoran. She's disabled and he lost his job in the construction industry. "It was really difficult to find any housing we could afford," Joy tells Cat Wise of The PBS News Hour. "So when we had the opportunity to move here, it was just a godsend."

And not just because of the affordable rents. Joy leads story time every week at the library. "It's sort of, almost like a fantasy of being a librarian or a teacher or something like that," she says.

Agreed, says Jim. "We're flourishing and evolving in this kind of environment and we're growing big time," he says. "If you go to live in an apartment with a bunch of older people, for instance, the people kind of wither away. And it's really not right. Connecting across the generations is critical," he adds, "absolutely critical for aging out."

Schubert says that they hope to start building a second intergenerational housing complex next year across town. Bridge Meadows, she says, "a beautiful place to age." And just as beautiful a place, it's worth noting, to be a kid.

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View Cat Wise's story on The PBS News Hour at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuvdVH0NOl4.