Weed Whackers

[Photo: New duplexes]

REDMOND, OREGON - There's probably not a state, a community or, even, a block that's not been hit by foreclosures. But there are some places that have been hit harder - a lot harder - than others. Like Redmond, Oregon.

Redmond is a rapidly-growing, high desert city of some 26,000 people on the eastern slope of the Cascades, about 150 miles southeast of Portland. Like most other communities, it experienced a wave of foreclosures driven by risky, poorly-underwritten mortgages for buyers who, from the get go, lacked the resources to meet mortgage obligations.

But then, Redmond and the rest of Oregon were double-whammied by a second wave of foreclosures. "A lot of the folks that our members are serving are the folks who were employed six months before, or a year before or event two years ago when the recession hit," Oregon Opportunity Network executive director John Miller recently told Street Roots. "They had jobs, they were making ends meet. This is especially true on the foreclosure side, but also in rentals. Then as they lose their jobs, they lose their housing."

Oregon has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. No surprise, it also has one of the highest rates of foreclosure. And Redmond and Deschutes County have among the highest in Oregon. "Blighted, abandoned properties have sprouted up in our community much like the weeds in their own front yards," observed Cyndy Cook, Executive Director or of the non-profit Housing Works that serves Redmond and other central Oregon communities.

Housing Works is clearing out those weeds, using funds appropriated by Congress at the request of, first, President Bush and, twice more recently, President Obama under HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).

NSP's approach is pretty straightforward. As weevils are to cotton, so abandoned homes are to neighborhoods, rapidly transforming them into dreary, dilapidated places folks no longer want to call home. So, NSP provides Federal funds to hard hit communities hard hit to acquire, redevelop or demolish foreclosed properties. "The ripple effect of turning foreclosed properties into well-kept, occupied homes," notes Cook "will strengthen the surrounding community by raising adjacent property values, curb appeal, and overall livability." To date, NSP has local governments in Oregon buy and reclaim.

Like the bank-owned duplex on 27th Street in southwest Redmond recently acquired and rehabilitated by Housing Works. "It used to look like many other foreclosed homes - dead landscaping, missing doors and fixtures, half-completed remodeling projects that owners reluctantly walked away from," said Housing Works' Keith Wooden. "We paid $100,000 for the building," Housing Works' Kelly Fisher told The Redmond Spokesman, "and invested $30,000," re-screening windows and doors, installing new flooring, repairing dry wall and replacing lost appliances. Housing Works plans to rent the duplexes to income-eligible families.

The project's called Independence Place. For two reasons, says Wooden. "Through the affordable housing and the supportive services that our partner provide, families will gain their financial independence. Along with that, we are offering these units to eligible residents with a Veteran-preference - those folks that fought and sacrificed for the very principles that our country was founded on."

It's the fifth property Housing Works has bought and reclaimed in Redmond with NSP funds. It won't be the last. HUD rules allow proceeds from the sale of NSP properties to be recycled to reclaim other properties. Housing Works estimates it can help up to 22 Redmond families.

It won't happen overnight, says Cook. "If you've ever tried to vanquish stubborn dandelions," continued Cook, "you know that it takes time and attention." Fortunately, Housing Works has plenty of both.


Content Archived: December 23, 2013