Historic Hotel Julian Provides Affordable Housing in Corvallis

Gov. Kate Brown came to Corvallis Thursday to cut the ribbon on a recently renovated subsidized housing project and make a pitch for an ambitious plan to build thousands of low-income units all over the state.

“One in three (Oregon) households spends more than half their income on housing, leaving less for the basics — basics such as food and medicine,” Brown told a crowd of more than 200 people gathered for the grand reopening of the Hotel Julian Apartments, a 35-unit downtown complex that was slated for conversion to market-rate rentals before a pair of nonprofits stepped in to preserve the structure for low-income tenants with rent subsidies.

“That’s why I’m proposing to invest $100 million to bolster the state’s stock of affordable housing.”

Brown’s plan calls for the state to issue $85 million in general obligation bonds and $15 million in Lottery-backed bonds. The money would be combined with funding from other sources to build or acquire an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 units of housing for families and individuals earning 30 percent to 60 percent of the median income for their area.

The proposal is currently before a legislative subcommittee that is expected to make a recommendation to the Joint Ways and Means Committee in the next two weeks, according to Dani Ledezma, the governor’s housing and human services policy adviser.

Brown pointed to the Julian’s acquisition and renovation by Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services and Northwest Housing Alternatives as a model for the sort of affordable housing project needed in cities all over the state.

“If the Hotel Julian had been converted to market rate apartments,” she said, “it would have forced the 35 households here to leave this amazing community.”

After a ceremonial ribbon cutting, the governor took a tour of the building to see some of the renovation work, which includes fresh paint, new carpeting, cabinetry and appliances, a remodeled lobby and community room, and energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling.

Historic hotel

Built as the Hotel Corvallis in 1893, the four-story brick building was remodeled in 1911 and reopened as the Julian Hotel, with 100 guest rooms and a banquet hall that could seat 300 people. By the 1980s, however, the once-grand edifice had fallen on hard times, and new owners converted the historic structure to low-income apartments with a rehabilitation loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Julian changed hands again in 2008, and by 2012 a new set of owners were considering converting it back from subsidized housing to market-rate apartments.

That’s when Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services and Northwest Housing Alternatives stepped in, teaming up to acquire and renovate the building so it could remain part of the Corvallis area’s rapidly dwindling stock of affordable rental housing. Northwest Housing Alternatives made the initial purchase and managed the rehab work, then sold the property to Willlamette Neighborhood Housing Services under a deal that will ensure the building remains subsidized housing for the next 60 years.

Using a package of loans, grants and tax credits from a variety of public agencies and private banks, the two nonprofits orchestrated an $8.4 million purchase and rehab project. Roughly $2 million went toward acquisition, $3.6 million to renovation and $2.6 million to other development costs, including engineering costs and a variety of fees. Part of the money went to pay for temporary housing for the 35 households that called the Julian home, ensuring they would not be displaced by the renovation work.

Today the Julian’s studio and one-bedroom apartments are reserved for very low-income residents who are also elderly or disabled, with an average household income of less than $10,000 a year. Tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities. The Linn-Benton Housing Authority picks up the rest of the tab.

A portion of Monroe Avenue was cordoned off for the grand reopening ceremony Thursday. Well over 200 people sat in folding chairs beneath a temporary canopy or stood in the sun as speakers stepped to the microphone to talk about the project.

Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber called affordable housing a “critical need” for Corvallis and noted that the City Council had made increasing the local supply a priority.

And Jim Moorefield, executive director of Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services, underscored the need for projects like the Julian with some sobering numbers.

“In Corvallis we have more than 5,000 households — not 5,000 people, but 5,000 households — that are spending at least half of their monthly income on housing,” he said. “That’s not a healthy situation for them, and it’s not a healthy situation for the community.”