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Work starts on Glisan Commons

A social service agency headquarters building with 127 low-income housing units broke ground in east Portland last month


Breaking ground on Glisan Commons - the new building housing Ride Connection headquarters and 127 units of low-income housing managed by Human Solutions - are, from left, TriMet Board President Bruce Warner, Portland Housing Bureau's Program Coordinator for Housing Development & Finance Karl Dinkelspiel, Director of Oregon Housing and Community Services Margaret Van Vliet, Ride Connection Executive Director Elaine Wells, Human Solutions Executive Director Jean DeMaster, Human Solutions Board President Carla Piluso, Bank of America Senior Vice-President of Community Development Lending Jan Laskey and Ride Connection Board President Bob Ueland.

Jean DeMaster, executive director of the non-profit Human Solutions, set the tone at last month's ground breaking for Glisan Commons, of which her agency is a partner. She compared the development process to a birth.

Phase I of the project will contain office space for another non-profit, Ride Connection, and a parking lot to store some of its fleet of mini-buses and vans for transportation of the elderly and disabled. Above this will be 67 units of family housing managed by Human Solutions. Phase II, when funding permits it will see construction of another 60 units of housing for low-income elderly tenants.

In Phase I of the construction, 103 parking spaces are planned, of which 18 are reserved for the Ride Connection fleet. When Phase II is complete, 30 more parking spaces for residents will be added.

The beginning of construction for the project on Northeast Glisan Street at 99th Avenue was “the promise of a new child, somewhere between conception and birth,” DeMaster told a crowd of supporters. “We celebrate that the design and funding phases for this project are over.” Pointing to easels containing renderings of the completed project she said, “The ultrasound is over there, it will grow big in a few months, and you're all part of that. There are plenty of parents, aunts and uncles who made this happen. Of course, some had a more intimate experience with the birth of this child than others. It was not without its false stops, starts and challenges.”

She proceeded to thank some of the project's funders and public agencies that supported it. Among the supporters was another speaker, Bruce Warner, former executive director of the Portland Development Commission and current TriMet board president. “I was one of the people 'intimately' familiar with the project,” he said. PDC provided an economic development grant to Human Solutions, and PDC purchased the property before conveying it to that agency. “It was a good decision,” Warner said. “Good projects will get done eventually. This will be a great addition, a great asset to this community. It will help people become good members of society; get their feet under them again. It's three blocks from Portland's busiest transit center. Congratulations to all of you. I hope construction goes well, and that there are no surprises.”

Another funder was Oregon Housing and Community Services. Executive Director Margaret Van Vliet said, “I know how long and hard this was to do, and how necessary.” The state agency contributed federal housing tax credits to the project financing. “They were critical, and also scarce,” Van Vliet said. “It's no small thing to be one of the winners, but this project rang many bells. It's well-located, a good use of land, addresses transportation needs, provides quality affordable housing, involves partnering with the city of Portland and nonprofits. We're putting the money where it will do the most good.”

Elaine Wells, executive director of Ride Connection, described her agency's travels from Northwest Portland to North Williams Avenue to Southwest Moody Avenue. “The constant moving was not so great,” Wells said. “We went where we could get a good value so we could focus on our mission, but there was lack of certainty, stability and a sense of place.” In Northwest, where they shared space with other agencies in a building owned by Legacy Health Systems, they enjoyed free use of phones, copying machines and parking, as well as feeling “the power of connection.” Thinking back to this collaboration, Wells said, “We thought, 'What if we didn't have to build a building all by ourselves?' 'What if' became reality.” She quoted Henry Ford: “Coming together is the beginning, working together is the process, and staying together is the success.”

Another funder, Jan Laskey of Bank of America, said, “This is the kind of work we love to be a part of. What a great group of people to be together in one solution. A number of things never done in this city before. I'm proud to be part of it.”

In her acknowledgements, DeMaster included the Gateway Urban Renewal Advisory Committee for their “steady and unwavering support, their vision for Gateway which we hope this will help to implement.”
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