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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

MEMORANDUM TO THEIR BOARD OF DIRECTORS,

MT HOOD HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

October 26, 2004

Roger N. Meyer

President, Rockwood Neighborhood Association

and Land Use Committee Chairperson

 

 

Why This Memorandum?

 

     In late September, I received a routine request for waiver of neighborhood meeting from Catie Fernandez, the planner/architect for Habitat's SE 197th project.   I met with Catie, the City of Gresham planner Gary Miniziewski, Meghan Mahaffy, and a member of the Habitat board of directors in a "pre-pre-planning conference" meeting at the end of September 2004.  After some discussion with members of the neighborhood association board, I signed the waiver and submitted it to Catie Fernandez, the complex's planner.  Much earlier in the year, as the I approved the partition of the lots as a routine action, but with my approval, I submitted a letter of concern to the planner in charge, City of Gresham, regarding Habitat's track record with completed or in-progress projects in Gresham.

 

     The purpose of this memorandum is to bring matters discussed in late September and others that have come to my attention before the board of Habitat itself.  I have asked Meghan Mahaffy to forward this memorandum to the board.  I also requested that she ask its executive committee whether I could appear personally before the board to start dialogue regarding concerns found in this memorandum.  I did not find her response helpful.  Out of concern for things not starting out well so early in the communication process, I contacted Mr. Ted Swisher of Habitat International.  He was surprised at what I reported, and referred me on to the Western Regional Center in Bend.  After some trouble with the phones at the Western Regional Center in Bend and with staff not knowing" who is in charge where," I spoke with Western Regional Affiliate Support Manager, Dia Maurer.  She assured me she could be of assistance to the Mt. Hood Board in opening up some kind of direct communication channel between community representatives and the board.

 

     My reason for wishing to speak directly with the board or a committee of the board couldn't be more clear:  I have become increasingly worried that unless things "going south" with the first completed project are corrected quickly, Habitat may not receive an "open arms welcome" for future projects from the Rockwood neighborhood of Gresham, the part of West Gresham most likely to host affordable housing for first time low-income home owners.

 

Checking In with the Community

 

     I am concerned with Mt. Hood Habitat's turnkey operations in Gresham, mainly with regard to the extent to which it is able to guarantee conditions it agreed to in its dealings with our city's planners.  Except for sharing its first project with the Gresham Neighborhood Association in a meeting in November 2001, Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity has sought little contact with the community at large regarding its second and its third projects.  While city code or regulations may not require such contact, prudence and the development of a positive image of Habitat in Gresham should dictate a greater openness to community concerns, an openness already demonstrated by other affordable housing developers in Gresham, namely Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare and Human Solutions.  While their projects have been rental and special purpose, not owner occupied ones, their property and project managers have actively sought community exchanges regarding the impact of their projects in the community as well as a sharing of information regarding resources available in the surrounding community to residents in their projects.  People occupying poorly thought-out rental units can move.  And they do. 

 

     First time low-income homeowners cannot.

 

Haste can result in Waste and Disaster

 

     Of special concern is Habitat's urgency to hasten its SE 197th complex through the planning process.  The City of Gresham has been an excellent partner in assuring smooth early planning and funding opportunities for this complex.  However, at the September meeting, the project's architect and planner produced, for the first time, preliminary sketches of the project while at the same time requesting waiver of a neighborhood meeting.  In the past, developer conduct of this kind has been viewed as "putting the cart before the horse."  In the case of this project, the city's planner had not seen any concept drawings of the project, yet the City's Office of Economic Development had already provided the go-ahead and some funds for a project not even "on the drawing board."

 

     To those attending the pre-planning meeting in September, I pledged to see the project proceed and be successful, but not at any cost.  Last week I signed a waiver of neighborhood meeting requirement as a demonstration of good faith.  I now expect Habitat to demonstrate its own good faith and respect for the community, which I represent as its neighborhood association president.

 

     There comes a time when hasty early planning suggests the wisdom of "slow down and let's take a look."  Driven by the Habitat's urging the project forward, motivated by convenience of having ground breaking and early heavy construction work conducted during the deep winter months when subcontractors face less schedule conflicts, I remain convinced that thoughtful and earnest though not protracted deliberations take place now, not after the project has moved to a point of "no turning back."  Such deliberations are called for in view of Habitat's first project, which set its own precedent of poor planning and assessment of community resources, further hobbled by inadequate resident preparation.  I ask that the board of Habitat demonstrate the same consideration for the neighborhood and its future residents, as one would expect of any developer, whether non-profit or for-profit.  As the Rockwood Neighborhood Association's president, I represent the quality of life concerns, safety, and welfare of all of Rockwood's present and future residents - including Habitat's - as well as its business and commercial interests.

 

     Once a declarant completes turnover of a condominium association to the homeowner's association, as a special corporate entity, by law it severs its interest in conditions that then become the homeowner's association's complete responsibility.  In the instance of SE 188th, the current distress of residents could have been anticipated and ameliorated by the exercise of less haste and the opening of the board's eyes and ears to the capacity of its first-time owners to grasp the complex demands of collective home ownership as well as to the true conditions surrounding that site.  For whatever reasons, Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity's board of directors appears not to have done so.

 

     This was a tragic, preventable mistake.

 

     This memorandum will address two primary issues.  First, I will outline what I've learned from multiple, recent contacts with resident owners of the SE 188th eight-unit complex.  One issue in common, resident parking, affects all three completed, in-progress, and projected Habitat projects in West Gresham.  In the concluding part of the memorandum, I relate my concerns, based on "lessons learned" as well as proposals for "lessons to be learned" by the Mt. Hood Chapter of Habitat for Humanity with regard to its SE 197th Avenue project. 

 

I

The SE 188th Avenue Complex

 

     Habitat eagerness to find and build on "any land available" can have devastating consequences.  What has happened with and to the residents of the SE 188th Avenue complex illustrates problems likely to be faced in the future in many West Gresham locations.  This is especially true of the SE 197th Avenue complex.

 

     I don't know whether at the time it bought the lot on SE 188th Avenue if Habitat's board of directors was aware of conditions on the street itself, and of the reputation of the Barberry Village rental complex directly across the street.  I had occasion to visit one resident of SE 188th several weeks ago right after two successive break-ins to her residence.  She informed me of some problems with the homeowner's association.  Two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, I visited most of the other residents.  I received a call from one resident, urged to contact me by another, on Friday, October 22nd.  All three contacts have opened up ten problems, identified in bullet points below.

 

Owners' Issues

 

 

 

     The owner with whom I spent the longest time in conversation said that following turnover, Habitat provided an attorney to advise them, although it was unclear who was the client, Habitat, or the HOA.  After a number of unsuccessful meetings, the attorney apparently abandoned further discussion with the owners.  At one point, Gresham's East County Mediation was invited to assist, but one owner reported that the mediator gave up.  In later conversation with the director of that City of Gresham service, the director informed me that under no circumstances would East County Mediation consider further intervention with the residents and/or other parties involved in the owners' disputes, whether between themselves, or between the owners and Habitat.  Something must have gone terribly wrong.  I am a trained community and special disputes mediator (25 years).  I was surprised at the forcefulness of the director's statement of disinterest.

 

     Several of the owners said they didn't understand the papers they were shown or given at the time they committed themselves to buy.  Two owners said they don't remember being shown an estimated annual budget for the HOA, a document required, by law, to be presented prior to sale of any condominium unit.  None of them had any idea of deferred, long-term, or other kinds of maintenance accounts required of condominium associations.

 

 

     I asked one owner, who acted as treasurer but resigned in June 2004, whether the association had fire insurance to cover the common elements.  She said she didn't think so, and didn't know the answer to whether the association as a corporation had general liability indemnification.  (State law requires Fire insurance.)

 

 

     In view of Habitat's assurance to the City of Gresham of a limit of one vehicle per household, there arises the issue of owners' good faith dealings with Habitat, and Habitat's undertakings with the City of Gresham regarding vehicular ownership of the residents.  From the corner of Burnside, just to the South, extending past Barberry Village on the East SE 188th there is no safe street parking.  For some six hundred feet from Burnside northward, there are no "eyes on the street."  Vehicles are unprotected against theft, break-ins, or vandalism.  In its agreement with the City, Habitat was not obligated to provide for visitor parking spaces.  In view of the size of families and the family activities of residents, I can only suggest that such shortsightedness in planning for others' use of assigned parking spots while "permitted" was irresponsible, both from the City's point of view as well as Habitat's.  Vehicles have been towed from the parking lot as a consequence of their occupying the assigned places of others.  This has led to bad feelings between the owners.

 

 

     One resident, the current president of the HOA, has erected a "private deck" on the SE lawn in the corner of the grassy area shared by all members.  She has forbidden others to use the deck.  The family in the four-bedroom unit closest to the parking lot has forbidden other members common use of common element area(s) adjacent to her unit.  When the former treasurer was asked whether, if an election were held, the current office holder would either be elected or trusted to speak or act on behalf of all of them, she said "No."  I had the impression that hers was no mere singular observation.

 

 

     At least one owner has constructed a storage shed on the owner's limited common element back yard.  Such construction may be in violation of the bylaws.  In response to one owner's complaint, the City of Gresham's building inspector is reported to have acknowledged that there may be a code violation, but the city assigned no present priority to address such complaints.  If there were efforts to resolve differences between owners with reference to the bylaws and enforcement of their provisions, this effort appears to have failed.  Owners report that the bylaws have not been altered or amended since turnover, yet there appears to be "selective" enforcement of their provisions by one or more members of the association.

 

 

     Code requires "eyes on the street" as a safety and quality of life measure.  Discovering this major oversight, city inspectors let the violation "pass."  As a consequence, all six units on SE 188th have their chain-link gates padlocked and chained.  At least three owners report that they do not feel safe in their "back yards" and do not use them.  Their bedrooms face a noisy, violent street.  Three of the six owners of units on the street I talked with said they felt "trapped in their homes."  At least two of them said they would move if they could, and furthermore, had they realized the implications of this reversed design, they never would have signed up with Habitat to be owners.

 

     One owner, the president, has constructed a six-foot high wooden fence just inside the cyclone fences and gate lines on SE 188th.  That fence wraps around the small yard on both sides.  The same wooden fence is constructed in a similar manner in her unit's front yard facing the other unit's entrances from the sidewalk serving all units in the center of the lot, inside, creating a "fortress-like" appearance."  The fence also suggests more:  a siege mentality.

 

 

 

     One owner reports a manufacturer's defect problem known at the time of installation of a second floor combination shower and tub.  The installer told her at the time the combination unit was installed that he had doubts about its worthiness.  Since completion and occupancy, the unit leaks, and has caused the owner to repair sheet rock on the ceiling of her first floor.  I did not ask who did the sheet rock repair or who paid for it.  The leak condition has still not been resolved.  The owner said that throughout the period of her one-year warranty, Habitat refused to replace or repair the product, but instead referred her to its supplier.  Under terms of state law requiring a one-year "new construction" warranty to owner occupant, this is unacceptable builder conduct.  Another owner reports low water pressure in her unit.  It was unclear at the time of my visit whether the pressure problem exists throughout the entire plumbing to her unit, or only her kitchen sink.  She reported that Habitat dismissed her complaints during the first year of occupancy.  The repair may be simple.  It may be complex.  The owner does not know how to maintain plumbing fixtures that are now "hers."  She may not have any basic home-repair training or experience.  Since women head a number of the first-time-owner households, several owners may share this one owner's dilemma.

 

 

     Gresham police have been unable to stop the activity and trafficking continues unabated.  Residents do not know how to document or photograph the activities taking part in their midst.  They have gotten little help from an overwhelmed first responder force, a "frequent visitor" due to street crime and emergency calls of all kinds relating to conditions at Barberry Village directly across the street.

 

How Parking Issues Involve More than Parking - Calculus of Social Costs is called for

 

An "Aside Discussion"

 

     The issue of safe on-street parking on SE 188th is not likely to be resolved until that portion of the neighborhood gets gang and drug-traffic related violence, opportunistic property crimes, and pedestrian safety issues firmly under control.  The MAX station at SE 188th has become considerably more violent and unsafe since the sudden closure and abandonment of the Fred Meyer store on the Rockwood City Center triangle.  The frequency of Gresham Police and TriMet Police calls to that stop are high, out of scale to other stops in the area surrounded by a similar number of small convenience businesses.  The store - a major neighborhood convenience to pedestrian shoppers - closed on January 28, 2003, just as Habitat owners were settling into their new residences.  No replacement shopping has been built, and a number of small service and product stores in the vicinity have closed or are failing as a consequence of the disappearance of opportunistic shopping connected with the Fred Meyer store.

 

     At Lillian's Place on 168th, now nearing completion, owners are restricted to on-site parking of their vehicles.  Habitat assured the city of Gresham that no on-street parking would be proposed to its new owners, mainly because the principal access to Lillian's place is from a common driveway cut on Stark, and parking is prohibited on SE Stark.  Stark is a high-speed, high-volume transit corridor.

 

      The only nearby street parking available is on SE 169th Court, on the North side of Stark.  At the corner of 169th Court there is a new 32-unit rental project with its own on-site parking.  At the time Habitat bought its plot, Rockwood had a no-additional-rental-units ban in place.  Originally, the developer of the current 32 rental unit complex across the street could only build owner-occupied units.  With the city council's lifting of the apartment construction ban in January 2004, that owner applied for conversion of his project from owner-occupied units to rental units.  For a project of that size and density, there was a city requirement of 1.5 parking spaces per unit.  He negotiated for a reduction of vehicle parking to just one space per unit, with provisions for guests, with a likely assurance to the city that his leases or rental agreements would not allow for any more than one vehicle per tenant.  Whether that agreement applies to a successor owner is unknown.  Unless that owner and his successors have a fail-safe mechanism in place, his tenants, as well as owners of the Lillian's place project may be able to park additional, undeclared vehicles on SE 169th Court, a street already partly clogged at night and on weekends with vehicles owned by tenants of the existing 20-unit apartment complex on the East side of 169th Court.

 

     Needless to say, crossing Stark Street at almost any hour is dangerous, even at well-marked intersections.  Unsafe crossing conditions apply equally to persons wishing to access bus stops on either side of Stark, as well as the limited on-street parking on SE 169th Court.

 

    The owner of the pre-existing twenty unit complex complained to me that by allowing the conversion of previously approved owner-occupied units to rental tenant occupied status, and providing only a one vehicle limitation to tenants, he felt the city's earlier assurances to him had fallen through.  He added that many of the vehicles already parked on the street do not belong to his unit's tenants, but rather are owned by tenants of other apartments further east, on Stark.  He feels betrayed by what he was told by the city, and, by his disrespectful treatment at the hands of the Rockwood Neighborhood Association person then handling land use issues.  When he first complained to her about parking problems on SE 169th Court, she dismissed his concerns about limited on-street parking, figuring that he and his tenants were primarily responsible for the parking congestion on the street.  She likened his complaint to a condition of the pot calling the kettle black.  As facts would have it, things were not that simple.

 

     From a neighborhood association president's perspective and as the current land use contact person for the association, I am concerned about the effect of neighborhood livability and pedestrian safety due to the addition of nearly fifty new families to an already impacted parking, vehicular traffic and pedestrian safety hazard condition at the uncontrolled intersections created by the Habitat driveway exit/entrance on the South, and SE 169th Court on the north side of Stark.  Furthermore, with the addition of so many new residents, there are likely to be continued, escalated problems with parked vehicle congestion on the only street allowing any convenient parking to nearby residents.  Anticipating "street parking turf struggles, " I requested East Metro Mediation to contact Habitat, the owner of the 32 unit rental project, and the owner of the older 20-unit apartments, plus adjacent single-family home residents into a neighborhood meeting to resolve, in advance, arrangements to control parking congestion and guarantee enforcement and immediate towing of vehicles if the street is to be designated with some type of permit parking arrangement that may arise out of a mediator-facilitated discussion.

 

II

SE 197th - A Foreseeable Disaster in the Making

 

     The concerns I brought forth at a pre-pre conference meeting at the end of September 2004 were as follows.

 

 Social and Environmental Issues affecting Project Location

 

 

 

     This means that for basics, such a family groceries (rather than snacks and junk food), owners must "commute to the WINCO or Fred Meyer much, much further up Burnside, or consider shopping at the bargain food outlet on SE Division and 188th.  That outlet recently announced plans to close its doors.  Even were it to remain open, the route to the Division location, accessible by 202nd Avenue/ Birdsdale or SE 190th Avenue is not pedestrian-friendly.  At 197th, Division Street is nearly ten blocks distance to the south.  There are no pharmacies or specialty stores affordable to any residents of the project.  The closest (higher end) shopping is at Gresham's Civic Center stop area, where QFI (high priced) and several specialty stores exist.  Given the low income of families to be owners of the 197th project, such a center does not serve their needs for affordable accessories, to say nothing of full-spectrum shopping.  For most families, using the MAX to shop is neither realistic nor feasible.  Going further east on MAX brings one to no affordable shopping conditions.  Going further West presents the same dilemma, unless one decides to shop way down at the SE 122nd stop, or traverse several transfers to get to the Fred Meyer and other stores at SE 148th and Division.  Families simply will not use the MAX or the busses to fulfill their basic needs to shop given these conditions.

 

 

     Gresham and TriMet transit police admit that rider and "waiter" safety at Ruby Junction its platforms and trains is out of control.  This means that there are no first-responder eyes on the stop.  To add to the problem, the stop does not have residences or commercial buildings overlooking or adjacent the site along which pedestrians can safely travel observed by "eyes on the street."  As a consequence, it is one of the most dangerous MAX stops in Gresham.  Regardless of the volume of police calls or transit police calls to that stop, the high level of personal safety and actual criminal activity at that site remains largely unreported.  The area itself is so hostile to quick police response that it remains one for which the city and transit police can make no guarantees of greater police presence or access.  Residents of the area have had to shrug their shoulders and put up with a largely irreparable high-vulnerability condition.  They don't talk about it much because nothing can be done about it, either by themselves, law enforcement, or adjacent area property owners.  Adjacent property owners' businesses are not pedestrian-oriented businesses.  Automobile and truck drivers patronize them all.  They all close at normal business closing hours, and are not open on weekends.

 

     It makes no sense for residents in the area to report minor or major criminal activity or security concerns at the stop because without huge first responder expense, nothing can be done to improve conditions.  This means that the stop itself is likely to remain underutilized, despite the nearby presence of massive numbers of multiple dwelling residents south and west of the stop.  There are too many escape routes for street crime perpetrators at the location where such criminals would remain undetected and unnoticed by eyes on the street businesses, people using sidewalks on Burnside, or commercial businesses further east on Burnside.

 

 

     The presence of large plots of undeveloped land on the west side of the street and outbuildings at the few residences are easy to hide behind.  The ease with which individuals can escape at high speed, unnoticed, along the street make it an ideal alley of escape as well as a place for criminals dependent upon friendly opportunistic sites, to lay in waiting.

 

 

     Habitat's sidewalk and curbing improvements will be among the first on the west side of the street.  Gresham Transportation Division's improvement of SE 197th is not on the city's upgrade schedule for the near future.  The mobile home park eastward is blocked from public access by an unbroken, high masonry wall.  The park has a single driveway entrance and exit facing SE 197th, several hundred feet north of the Habitat complex.  Conditions of occupancy for the mobile home park may specify that residents are not to park on 197th.  The high masonry wall that shields the mobile home residences also "blinds the street" on the east side.  Even if street parking were allowed, mobile home park residents could not observe their vehicles from their residences.  As a consequence, they keep their cars inside the wall.  On many drives past and on the street, I've noticed that no cars are parked on the east side of the street.  For some two or three hundred feet North from Burnside, the street goes from paved but poorly maintained, to potholes and unpaved, returning to paved further northwards.  In order for the street to be vehicle-friendly, major road improvements must be made.

 

 

     Vehicular traffic on SE 197th cannot turn east at the intersection of 197th and Burnside.  There is restriction to west turns only.  Further vehicle turning limitations exist for traffic coming east along Burnside just before the signal-controlled intersection.  U-Turns are not permitted.

 

     Eastbound Traffic on Burnside cannot make a U-turn turn back to access 197th unless unsafe turning conditions were to occur.  That condition already exists with such traffic turning south on 197th making a hazardous U-turn in the middle of the street in order to access the intersection.  Traffic so turned must then wait for the light, and safely proceed across the intersection, take a slight jog, and then enter 197th traveling west.

 

     Additional traffic limitations occur at the intersection of SE 197th Avenue and Stark.  Although this is a "T" type intersection, high volume traffic going both east and west on Stark limits safe turns from vehicles wishing to turn from either direction.  There is also the safety issue of turning north on 197th from traffic traveling west on Stark, due to heavy volume of cars coming in the opposite direction.

 

     As a consequence of current traffic restrictions, 197th remains unimproved because its volume of use is understandably low.  Furthermore, were the volume to be increased by development, mainly on the west side of the street, there would arise a property owner demand for immediate street improvement and safe intersections allowing turns in all directions at Burnside as well as Stark.  To the best of my knowledge, the City of Gresham has neither the money nor the intent of improving these conditions within the foreseeable future, especially given the budget problems of the city as well as its progression towards maintaining more county roads in the west end of the city.  Even were flush times to return - not a possibility any time soon - long-laid plans for the city's assumption of control of major county roads further west militate against early consideration for major improvements to SE 197th Avenue between Burnside and Stark.

 

 

     If there is any area reminiscent of outer county "wild West" conditions, this is it.  Present safety concerns cannot be as easily addressed by using the same means that bring other high-risk urban neighborhoods into greater safe-use conditions.

 

     First, 197th is not used by pedestrians because of the absence of sidewalks and curbs.

 

     Second, it is a "shortcut to nowhere."  Nothing of any attractiveness is at the ends of the street at Burnside or Stark currently attracts pedestrian or commercial traffic.  It is a bumpy shortcut between Burnside and Stark for those wishing to avoid traffic lines at the common signals for the Burnside/Stark intersection several blocks west.  Few cars choose the route.

 

     Third, the area is not likely to see future business development for a very long time, even if a Park and Ride stop were to be planned for the vicinity.  Even were a TriMet park and ride facility to be proposed anywhere near the Ruby Junction MAX stop, it is less likely, for safety reasons, to be used than the present Park and Ride on the Rockwood Town Center triangle.  Even if such a lot were built, all it might do is increase traffic only at high volume use hours along a SE 197th Avenue that otherwise is unused during the day for the reasons mentioned above.  There appears to be no such proposal for such a lot.  The reason:  the area is unsafe for pedestrians, and an even worse theft and car burglary target than the current underutilized Park and Ride lot further west.  One would think the area would have lots of users with high-density apartment and condominium buildings all lining Burnside on the south and extend along streets leading to SE Yamhill.  However, all of the current apartments on Burnside and on those short streets turn their backs or their blind sides to the street.

 

     Further in-fill new construction, resulting in LDR multiple-detached single family residences, mainly north of Stark, has been affordable to vehicle-dependent middle class families whose primary transportation needs are not likely to change to the use of mass transit unless such Park and Ride or other amenities would make it attractive for commuters to increase their use of either MAX or the busses on Stark.  Stark itself is a pedestrian-hostile traffic corridor, as is Burnside, within at least eight blocks east of the confluence of Burnside and Stark slightly east of SE 190th.  No one walks either street, as both are heavy traffic corridors with high volumes of traffic, no visual amenities, and terrific noise volume, all conditions militating against pedestrian use.

 

 

     There are Gresham ordinance issues that must be addressed with regard to the project's building front entrances orientation to the street.  No existing residences facing 197th really orient themselves towards the street.  The several residences that do exist sit a considerable distance from the street, virtually in the center of their large lots.  Even with the existing residences on the west side, residents have no need to fix their attention on the street, since the current isolated and scattered residences have residents whose primary orientation is towards their own outbuildings and service structures further back, away from the street.  Such an away-from-street orientation is perfectly understandable, because the street itself is hostile to traffic and pedestrian passage.

 

     Preliminary plans viewed at the meeting between Catie Fernandez, Ms. Mahaffy, a member of the Habitat Board, the planner, Mr. Miniziewski, and myself revealed a "courtyard oriented fortress design" without primary orientation of the fronts of project buildings to SE 197th.  The preliminary drawings showed no primary orientation towards 197th.  Left uncorrected, this condition would perpetuate an already "wilderness" setting of this underdeveloped street.

 

     Current residences oriented primarily away from the street, despite their front doors that may face it, means that residents of the Habitat project will find themselves joining their neighbors isolated by current patterns of street, poor street design, and no provisions allowing for adequate street lighting or safe havens for pedestrians coming to and returning to the units, whether from Stark or Burnside, This means the likely development of a fortress mentality by the project residents.  Indeed, preliminary building sketches shown at the September meeting placed a community use meeting and/or student or study enclave that will only exacerbate the likelihood within the entire community of project residents with regard to how they negatively view the street.  In fact, the very proposed placement of the multi-purpose building on the lot may impede first, and perhaps second level resident observation of SE 197th Avenue.  Such visual impediment is not permitted by the safe-streets orientation requirements of Gresham's ordinances.

 

 

     Preliminary design concepts first viewed by myself and the city's planner at our late September meeting suggested that child and adult resident security issues have been considered, but from a point of view that builds in isolation from the street.  The focus of all building fronts appeared to be inward, towards the common courtyard/common element space.  In realization of the high number of younger children likely to be with families requiring three and four bedroom owner-occupied units, Habitat has proposed a building whose use will be as an after school homework and community center, complete with computers.  Plans are to have a caretaker family move into the second floor of this building.  While offering a safe place for children to spend time close to their families, this very arrangement acknowledges the resident-hostile character of the neighborhood.  Immediately west is the boundary fence of the Kaiser Rockwood complex, a complex enjoying virtually no evening or night use.  Immediately east, across the street, is a walled-off single-story structure mobile home park.  As indicated above, residents of that park have their view of the street completely blocked by an impenetrable masonry wall.  Immediately south is the unsafe MAX stop.  Immediately north is Stark, at this time a pedestrian-unfriendly street, terminating in a condition in which a commercial provisioner's business (no night time use) is located a block away from a Honky-Tonk local bar.  Marginal businesses, of little value to frugal residents, dot the street's south side.

 

 

     While there is a sidewalk on the north side of Burnside, it remains virtually unused because nothing for any comfortable pedestrian walking distance exists as a destination point for any shoppers, all the way west to the top of the Rockwood Town Center triangle, and way beyond for several blocks further west on either Stark or Burnside.  From Ruby Junction west, Burnside is bifurcated by the MAX tracks.  The track bed cannot be safely crossed, and even if the street is crossed, pedestrians face an immediate onslaught of high-speed traffic on both sides.  Vehicle drivers, NOT pedestrians, primarily visit businesses located west of the tip of the Rockwood Town Center triangle.  The design charette proposed from the four-day Rockwood Town Center triangle workshop between October 13 and October 16 showed only "spot development" designed to encourage mixed use and residential development with an open-proposal public-use structure at the site of the huge flea market building on the south side of Stark, across from the Triangle.  Because of present absence of pedestrian traffic, the speed of vehicular traffic, the bifurcation of Burnside by the MAX tracks, within any normal walking distance of the Habitat project, there is no reasonable provision for pedestrian safety, and no inducement for residents of the project to "visit" any businesses within walking distance of the Habitat project itself.

 

 

     The mere addition of greater residential density on a street as hostile to pedestrian and vehicular traffic 197th, guarantees, for the time being, the creation of an isolated, fortress mentality of any residents on that street, and serves to contribute to further resident feelings of isolation from the entire area surrounding area.

 

 

     As first-time buyers' larger families grow, they will experience a natural urge to relocate to neighborhoods elsewhere in Gresham that are more family-use friendly.  The streets and sidewalks in all directions from the Habitat complex are unsafe for children.  As a consequence, children from families on SE 197th Avenue are unlikely to develop sustainable friendships with children living only two or three blocks away.  The same is true for adults.  Families at Habitat's already completed SE 188th Avenue eight-unit complex feel trapped in their location.  Equally low-income families at SE 197th may experience the same feelings.  It is not easy for families, once established in their first-time homes, to relocate, but given a strong enough negative setting, they are likely to do so any way.

 

     Unlike the Habitat projects located on SE 188th Avenue and at SE Stark at 168th Avenue, this project, while offering far more affordable housing to larger families at favorable MFI levels, ends up providing its first-time buyers with every inducement to move just as soon as they can, rather than remain in an already established, residential or mixed-use infill neighborhood.  There is nothing to hold them there.  Furthermore, the distance of any schools for elementary, middle, and high school students from this project dictates the use of either school busses, or, more likely, family-provided transportation to school-aged youngsters.  The isolated, unsafe condition of the street, plus feeder and adjacent traffic corridors guarantees a feeling of insecurity to students who walk the street.

 

 

     It would be more than understandable for parents residing in this project to want to control the safe travel of their children by providing private transportation, using family vehicles, for this purpose.  For the reasons outlined above, zoning designation of the present site as Station Center (SC), requires only a minimum of parking allowed for one vehicle PER UNIT, not taking into consideration the size of the units or the presence of children in the majority of these Habitat units, plus the special safety-poor character of the Ruby Junction MAX stop dictates a far greater allowed density of just one car per unit.  At present, there is nothing in the proposed design that would allow for expansion of parking beyond the one space per resident.  Furthermore, with just 24 spaces allowed for in a single-level parking garage, there may be no provision for parking for visitors or family guests.  Finally, because of the relatively isolated character of SE 197th, security of vehicles parked on that street is so high-risk that visitors or families parking their cars on that street, with an absence of any "eyes on the street" provide a perfect auto burglary and break-in target for street thieves and criminals whose numbers are very substantial in the immediate vicinity.  Even if they don't live there, street criminals know where victimization is easy and where there is virtually no chance of being caught during or following their criminal activities by first responders.

 

     At a minimum, the Habitat design must account for the present insecure character of vehicular parking in this neighborhood.  Especially if a parking structure is to be used, security cameras and other measures, including intrusion alarms and lighting designed to discourage unauthorized pedestrian (car thieves and car burglars) access to residents' cars is an absolute "must."  For the reasons listed above, the parking structure should also allow accommodation for guests, and short-stay visitors.  One suggestion would be to propose that the parking structure with four-bedroom units above would be underground or partially underground on an initial level, and ground level on a second level.  While substantially adding to the cost of construction, such a design change to the parking structure with residences above could address the need for greater resident parking needs.

 

     More than a single space should, by the very character of anticipated family vehicle use patterns of residents, be allowed for the three and four bedroom units.  Habitat should attend to what has already happened at SE 188th Avenue, a complex immediately adjacent to a relatively safer MAX station.  That location didn't prevent current owners from owning more cars than allowed.  Nothing suggests the owners of residences even further away from any amenities won't feel even stronger pressure to shop by car, not on foot.

 

Creative Solutions to the Vehicular Ownership Restrictions

 

     Even if the number of parking spaces were to be expanded from the present "one per unit," the CCNR's and by-laws of the homeowners' association should allow for long-time leasing or revocable rental or sale rights of spaces not used by the one and two bedroom residents.  It is likely that single persons, disabled residents or older, low-income couples might occupy the one and two bedroom units.  It could be likely that the disabled residents may not have a need for any vehicles, but provisions in the bylaws or CCNR's should allow preferred parking rights and access to any visitors or guests to their residences.  Furthermore, older couples may not wish to have a car, or may have a lifestyle that allows them access to mass transit at non-peak hours for the purpose of shopping, professional visits, and social lives outside of high commute hour parameters.  They, too, may be able to either lease or provide long-term usage of an assigned-vehicle parking space for their units, with the same understandings regarding use by visitors or guests available to other residents of the entire project with special recognition of their preferred rights as non-vehicle owners.

 

     Whatever arrangements are made, internally amongst homeowners' association members, or architecturally, to accommodate the differential vehicle demand and use patterns of the entirety of the project's residents, there is a need, identified above, for greater parking space available that must be accessible and safe for the owners and their guests.  Twenty-four spaces are not enough.

 

 

        No one on the Gresham City Council anticipated the type of low-income Habitat housing development on SE 197th when they lifted the apartment construction ban for Rockwood.  With the lifting of the ban, the Gresham City Council approved a requirement that any new construction within a certain radius of the intersection of Stark and Burnside at the top of the Rockwood Center triangle must include mixed residential/commercial use.  This was in keeping with the requirement for mixed use already applicable to the Rockwood Town Center itself.  The idea for such mandated mixed use was to provide transition to exclusively residential areas relatively close to that intersection.  In September, Habitat had just been appraised of this additional requirement.  As things now stand, several units are planned to allow for commercial (most likely professional office or low-commercial traffic volume) use of several main floor units.  Given the current problems of the entire area and the isolation of SE 197th Avenue from any related developments likely to be built in the future, the Rockwood Neighborhood Association will fully support Habitat's request for exemption from this requirement, thus dedicating to the site to 100% residential use.

 

 

     Demographic changes and future housing demands of aging residents can be addressed by creative structural engineering built into the current project proposal for anticipated changes in the neighborhood over the fifty year life of the project's structures.  Building for just one kind of housing is not going to change the march of time, people's changing living arrangement choices, or the aging process that will impact Rockwood low income housing areas far earlier and more profoundly than other areas of Gresham.

 

     While Rockwood's current demographics suggest a continued surge of children and young families, it is inevitable that the overall effect of resident aging and demands for appropriate housing empty-nesters and the aged should be acknowledged in any project spanning a fifty-year two-generation life cycle.  Preferences of this aging population are likely to gravitate towards lower square footage, but with equal preference for not moving far, or at all, from one's present residence.

 

     Given the likely shift of demographics as the population (overall) ages, and the relative short-fall of residence provisions for this aging population, I urge Habitat to make the load bearing engineering features of the largest units (three and four bedroom) flexible enough to allow for conversion of the larger units to smaller units in the future.

 

     This means that spaces such as hallways or commonly shared entrances may include engineering allowances for future small elevators from a main floor to the second or third floors.  Zoning in the area might change in the future, allowing for conversion of the current town-house design to an under/over multiple dwelling unit design (in future) that would accommodate the needs of the elderly.  Designing buildings only for a large-family use, in view of projected demographic shifts and changes in housing preferences plus not being able to accurately project further development in surrounding areas presently undeveloped or underdeveloped, suggests that such engineering allowances for flexibility, could be built into structures whose life is expected to be fifty years.  Although initially expensive up front, such over-engineered structures may well assure the continued viability of the complex as buildings as well as their inhabitants age.

 

     Cities throughout the United States already overbuilt due to high-density demand have suffered from the failure of vision of contractors and developers who only thought of current demographics and who fixated blindly on the thought that building "up" would always be more expensive than building "out."  Using conventional engineering that may be true.  Using unconventional thinking and creative engineering, that isn't always likely to be true.  The decreasing amount of developable open land everywhere militates against such rigid thinking.

 

     Where urban renewal and public renovation projects have allowed, many much larger spaces are being broken into age-appropriate, use-appropriate smaller spaces within the same outside walls.  To not plan for such flexibility in the face of not being able to anticipate demographic or use-shift issues doesn't resolve the likelihood of the project's becoming increasingly unsuitable in a neighborhood whose final profile at the end of four decades remains unknown today.  In cities "stuck" with large, white elephant multiple story, multiple unit buildings, conversions of such aging structures to other uses has invariably resulted in displacement of low income persons in favor of those who can afford the high cost of retrofitting and redesigning such buildings from the skin in.  Even if the buildings increase tremendously in value tremendously as a result of such internal subdivision, the inevitable effect has been displacement of those least likely to afford such changes.  Persons on a fixed or low income would be the first to fall victim to higher housing costs, or the effect of higher assessments and taxes on the same units in which they reside that would produce tax increment funding to pay the cost of West Gresham's Urban Renewal District indebtedness.  Even with schemes allowing the elderly and disabled to defray payment of property taxes, most studies show that these individuals choose to move rather than saddle their survivors with the cost of paying deferred taxes in one lump sum either upon succession of ownership, or sale of the property outright to other buyers.

 

Recommendation to Build In Features that Assure Economic Viability to the Homeowner's Association as a Corporate Entity

 

     By unimaginatively locking in structural or engineering features that will not permit future modified or altered use, Habitat may guarantee reduced value of the project to its homeowners' association at the very time that long-term maintenance and component replacement uses begin to eat into the separate funds maintained for such purposes.  With the failure of the HOA in Habitat's first eight-unit project in West Gresham, one would think that important lessons can be learned about what makes a project not only affordable, but viable over the long run, during a time that Habitat is no longer able to dictate financially responsible HOA corporate management practices.  Without being able to provide the assurance of sound fiscal management--guarantees required by lending sources, whether the sources be private or of a traditional sort--the project's homeowners' association may not be able to effect maintenance, replacement, or improvements necessary to meet current expenses let alone assure owners of corporate financial viability in the future.  This has already happened at SE 188th Avenue.  Without careful planning and training, now, of the present owners at SE 168th and Stark, the same pattern may repeat itself.  There is no excuse for Habitat not to take current challenges at SE 188th, and possible problems now remediable, although at the last moment, at SE 168th and Stark and assure that they will not recur at SE 197th Avenue.

 

     In the for-profit realty market, it is a known fact that homeowners' associations have a poor track record with regard to their long-term economic viability.  While much lack of foresight might be blamed on the vagaries of market conditions, just as much failure is attributable to plain human foible and going for the quick fix.  Common elements age.  Pressure builds from association members to change bylaw conditions that we know will adversely affect the ability of the corporation to maintain financial solvency over the life of the project.  Neither one of these features of human conduct is preventable, especially as the declarant to the new corporate relinquishes control of a HOA board composed entirely of owners.  But they can be and should be anticipated, especially since the owners of these common-wall complexes are the least likely of all condominium owners to understand the complexities of long term financial planning and the demands for maintenance and replacement that should be built into HOA budgets.  Many Habitat "first timers" are true first timers.  They don't have recent experience owning and maintaining their own residences.  The landlord has always assumed those responsibilities.  Now, as the condominium association, they are the landlord.

 

Will they be equipped to act like a good one?

 

 

Gresham is Different.  It isn't Portland.  It isn't like any other place anywhere near where its present volunteers live and work.

 

 

     The unique character of Gresham's Rockwood area demands a broader perspective of the Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors.  The character of affordable in-fill land within areas most likely to be sought by Habitat and other non-profit Community Development Corporations within the Gresham city limits dictates a different approach to land acquisition and special consideration of the reasons that certain presently undeveloped plots are likely to remain at depressed market values.  Those plots that will see the highest appreciation are located near good transportation (mass transit and commercial).  Under current zoning mandates, such properties are also likely to be idea high density, low/medium/high income residential properties.  Unfortunately, high land value has not been so assured due to the poor planning of Gresham's light rail.  With no monies available for its upgrading, it is likely to exact a continuing high cost on those residing in multiple family residences closest to the tracks and its station centers.  Some of the reasons cited above, plus the surrounding neighborhood's notable lack of conveniences, basic services, and quality-of-life amenities means that Habitat has a special duty to consider these factors when purchasing land and offering first-time home owners the chance to become long-term residents in neighborhoods that they also "own."  Say what one will, the house comes with the territory.  If the territory remains unattractive, so too will the housing remain less than desirable.

 

     The wilderness" characteristic of underdeveloped and undeveloped crazy-quilt holdings of west Gresham have remained that way for good reasons.  It would be wise for Habitat's Board of Directors to heed the findings of market analysts who have studied proposed development sites for all types of projects elsewhere in west Gresham.  As Habitat is the new kid on the block, but an organization pursuing a worthy and noble end, otherwise expensive studies, already paid for by other developers and syndicated owner groups might be available at low or no cost, especially where such proposed projects did not pencil out for those who paid for the feasibility studies in the first instance.  There are good reasons why they didn't.

 

     There is nothing wrong with learning from others' mistakes.  In fact, if approached properly, Habitat can become a rescue site for private market planning of others that has gone all wrong.  It takes more than professionals familiar with bricks and mortar to make these plans work.  I recommend that Habitat take a step back and ask itself, whether it does so of its board members or its volunteer planning and technical professionals:

 

Are we up to the daunting task of counting in as many factors to guarantee the success not only of our building efforts, but our long-term reputation in the community?

 

     That reputation starts with the financial welfare and sense of hope of those it has housed and "let go."  If Habitat has a problem with this idea, it may wish to think of those factors that made it a successful organization when its primary orientation in the United States was directed towards detached single-family houses.

 

     The fact is that that time is gone.  It is time to think in the present, but equally important, it is time to think of the different kinds of responsibilities involved in bringing into life a creature that has its own corporate life, held in its own hands, for the useful life of what Habitat and its resident owners and volunteers have built.

 

     Habitat simply cannot afford a repeat performance of what has happened at SE 188th Avenue.  Caution is one thing.  Turning a blind eye to the obvious, and not listening carefully to the community that may already have been there and done that is quite another.  If this means that Habitat may wish to consider the costs in terms of human lives and hope, not merely the benefits that first time-ownership of common-wall projects brings, it might mean stepping back, admitting that more planning is needing, including drawing on every possible resource in the community instead of acting like the Lone Ranger without Tonto, and re-thinking its concept for the SE 197th Avenue project.

 

More Reasons to Think Again

 

     Absence of Parks, Schools, and Leisure/Recreation Destinations are Major Reasons Why Families Who Can Choose Avoid Rockwood as a Place to buy their First Homes

 

     A final consideration in Habitat's design and project location must involve the presence or absence of multi-use open space, recreational and park facilities for its project residents.  There is the further issue of exterior design to the residences that would render them pleasant to live in and pleasant to view from their front and rear exposures.  Among Gresham's neighborhoods, Rockwood is the most poorly served by parks and other community recreation sites.  It is unattractive to first time buyer families with small children for this very reason, as well as the problems the neighborhood faces with the placement of existing or projected elementary, middle, and high schools, most of which are supported by the Reynolds School District.

 

     Of special concern is the long-known connection between the size of a school and its leading to the poor educational experiences of students crammed into huge building sites.  Unfortunately, school districts have continued to build "mega-structures" rather than the smaller buildings known to have a superior effect on childhood education.  Districts are limited to selecting huge parcels of land, fast-disappearing, for such schools, especially in areas as yet undeveloped or scheduled for annexation.  Habitat should be mindful of the effects of this phenomenon in siting its projects.

 

     Low Cost/No Cost, Convenience, and Temptations to Grab Any Deal that Comes Along

 

     While the affordability of a given project depends much upon the availability of suitably large lots that would allow construction costs of the structures themselves to pencil out, special care should be exercised to avoid mistaking the attractiveness of parcels merely because the cost of the land could be donated, or acquired at a below-market price.  The reasons why such plots are available under those conditions are often that the owner(s) have concluded that private, for-profit development has become unfeasible, and that they hold what has become white elephant realty.

 

Thinking Further Outside the Box

 

     All of west Gresham is dotted with abandoned, poorly designed business structures, substandard residences sitting on huge parcels of land and large parcels of vacant or underdeveloped land.  Given the mixed use potential made possible by the recently passed Urban Renewal District, some of these properties might become available were Habitat to consider co-investment with private, for profit commercial developers looking for partners to share the cost of building two or three story buildings, the upper floors of which could be for exclusive, residential use.

 

     By building multiple dwelling, privately owned housing in Portland and Gresham, Habitat has already acknowledged that the old times won't be back.

 

     How about some further thinking?

 

     One of the reasons why Community Development Corporations have not chosen Gresham as a site for rich pickings is its crazy-quilt building patterns only partially attributable to the time prior to Gresham's annexation of unincorporated land that Portland refused to annex starting in the mid 1950's through the mid 70's.  West Gresham, especially, is characterized by a pattern of "wild west" lawless, no-design-standards and poor building plan and construction oversight characteristic of municipalities far smaller than Gresham.

 

     Mixed-use ownership and title issues might be complicated, but aren't impossible to unravel.  Other areas of the country, far less bound by traditional land use conventions typical of those characterizing Oregon's realty history, have found ways to support creative solutions for complicated ownership agreements in mixed use developments.  Given the high density demands of Portland's Metro growth plans, non-traditional residential configurations might be appropriate in certain parts of west Gresham were Habitat to adjust its sights to include ideas outside of the traditional picture of single-use, exclusively residential projects.

 

Design Design Design is as Important as Location Location Location

 

     Ultimately, the personal asset value of housing to any first-time buyers will begin to approach the expectations regarding individual family home-ownership of the rest of the population.  Those expectations include many more factors than the mere affordability of housing.  They include access to shopping, culturally and economically appropriate amenities, integration with a friendly, surrounding environment, and the likelihood that long after children have grown up, the housing may still remain sufficiently enjoyable so that they can enjoy retirement and the lifestyle of families with older, adult children.  Features that would assure pleasure in long-term ownership also include exterior design characteristics that break up a barracks style or "repeated details" formula that is no substitute for variation.  As long as Habitat builds structures for others' occupancy, it should be able to offer the kind of exterior individuated-details that continue to attract the eye, rather than cause visual aversion to a "same-old, same-old" design.

 

     Visual external improvements as simple as varied window shapes and entrance configurations, variations in trim between units, differing color schemes, and other means to separate one common-wall unit from the next will assure that first time owners remain long-term owners.

 

     The individualized appearance of common-wall structures owned by families can also attach to other exposures than the "front."  The preliminary sketch presented by Catie Fernandez for first-time viewing of others at the September meeting may not have accounted for much individuation from the front.  I can't remember the fronts, but I do remember the rear and side elevations.  True to everything wrong with multiple dwelling units for low-income persons in Gresham, the structures provided repetitive rear and side elevations.  Even more significantly, by emphasizing front details only, this project, just like every other project anywhere near the MAX tracks and like many other multiple dwelling rental units further West in Gresham displayed a singular disregard for "others."  It, like the other projects, has turned its back on the street as well as its neighbors.  This kind of construction must come to an end if west Gresham is to gradually improve its well-deserved reputation as a last choice candidate for tastefully built affordable housing for middle and upper class owners.  Without that housing mix, the west Gresham's urban renewal district cannot alone offer enough inducement to private and public partners to assure revitalization of this classic dumping ground for poor industrial, commercial and residential designs, irresponsible developers, and absentee landlords.

 

     West Gresham's "other people" are passers-by and neighbors.  By turning its back and sides to the street, just like all the other low-income multiple dwellings west on Stark and Burnside, this project turns its back and sides to SE 197th Avenue.  Just as significantly, the rear view of the complex, visible from Burnside as the MAX and traffic heads east, looks "all the same."

 

     Unit design individuation is possible in multiple family dwellings.  Well-designed units, though joined by common walls, can present variation in "front presentation" of multiple dwelling units, as well as the sides and backs of those same units.  This is an especially significant marketing feature if rear yards are to places that individual owner use, rather than being so small that no practicable resident use is allowable.  Think of "no use" of the six units on SE 188th with their backs and their back yards to the street.  Viewed by neighbors, and at some distance, the rear elevation of these projects should also assure that occupants of adjacent housing not be faced by a dull, repetitive design driven only by budgetary limitations.  Variation and individualization of exterior details contribute much to individual owner's pride of ownership.  It is even safe to suggest that exterior design features, in the long run, might guarantee sustaining and growth of the value of individual holdings within a cooperative or HOA even more than interior features.  Interior re-decoration and other marks of individuals' presence are usually far less costly to effect than late-in-project-life material changes to common elements.  By the time association owners realize that an external makeover is needed, they may be forced to replace like with like, or materials of even lesser quality than that applied by the initial developer/builder.

 

 

 

The Value of Design Variety and Variation, Even Within a Given Low Cost Project

 

     The health of any neighborhood depends upon breaking up the appearance of sameness at elevations viewed by others.  A well-designed project does not have to scream "low income" to either its residents or to those viewing the project from all sides.  If individuation cannot be accomplished by a builder at outset of a project's building, first-time owner desperation to find affordable housing at the lowest cost may assure enthusiastic early-period ownership followed by increasing common owners' discomfort with exterior features not paid attention to at the time the unit was first purchased.  As owners age, they may be less able to afford any alterations to the appearance of common-wall units, since they may have passed their peak earning years, and may be unwilling to pay additional improvement assessments to the homeowners' association, especially as any common element improvement would only affect the external appearance of the buildings.  "Creature comforts" takes on an entirely new meaning to aging owners.  Many elderly individuals' worlds shrink to the familiar controllable interior of their habitations.

 

Who Pays, and When?

 

     Corporate insolvency is a known phenomenon common to many condominium/homeowners' associations as they, like their common elements, age.  Their financial status may become increasingly unstable - even untenable.  What was purchased as an asset can, as a function of the passage of time, become a liability to owners at a time in their lives they are least able to afford "break the bank" HOA assessments.  The developer and planner should anticipate this fact about homeowners' associations.  Those two roles are combined in a unique way in Habitat for Humanity.

 

    Every effort should be made through attention to exterior details to induce residents to remain, rather than depart from the project.  If this is not done, owners may feel snookered and trapped by a good deal gone bad, something only partly a function of their own changing perspectives on the relative value of "things" over their lifespan.  The sense of older residents having become trapped and unable to improve their lives by improving their immediate environment is a real phenomenon, not easy to calculate in a dollars and sense way, but every bit as real as humans calculate the worth of happiness and well-being as they age.

 

 

What Makes A Neighborhood?  What Makes a Community?

 

 

     New families can build a sense of community, but it cannot be built in a vacuum.  "Vacuum" is an imperfect but adequate description of the current Habitat property on SE 197th.  Given the geographically isolated character of this Habitat project, my concern is that natural and man-made barriers to connections with residents elsewhere (across the street, as well as on Burnside and North of Stark Street) will only encourage a fortress mentality of this project's denizens.  A sense of neighborhood as well as community where none previously exists is created and maintained by those who stay, not those who move in as replacement owners into units sold by former owners because the community became less relevant to their life styles or to their need to enjoy housing for other purposes other than housing a growing family.

 

    While transition in and out of housing is a life-cycle phenomenon common to middle class families, the attractiveness of initial affordability to a first time low income buyer should not be the only factor governing residents' sense of belonging in a neighborhood or their connection with the community at large.  Nor, in the case of projects located so out of touch, literally, with their neighbors, should turning inward for protection and a sense of "us versus the outside" be a value encouraged by a developer/builder

 

Any developer/builder.

 

      Since volunteer labor and donations in kind from persons and enterprises contribute so much to the lower cash costs of a project than were Habitat's projects to be commercially developed or even considered by more enterprising non-profits, one of the greatest hallmarks of a Habitat project for volunteers who built it lies in the personal pride they carry forward for many years as they point to their visually observed or "hidden just beneath the surface" work that brought the project to life.  One way of assuring that this pride does not fade as a project ages is to build into its external presentation to the community at large those very qualities appreciated by every homeowner, everywhere.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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