EUGENE, OREGON - In the language of the Kalapa Indians Ya-Po-Ah means "very high place." At 18 stories and 212 feet, in Eugene it means the tallest building in Oregon's second-largest city, a building whose 222 elderly residents got some very big news in April, 2017 during a visit by Governor Kate Brown and Eugene's new Mayor, Lucy Vinis.
Ya-Po-Ah was built in 1968 under HUD's Section 202 program which competitively awards capital and rent subsidy funding to non-profits to build and provide supportive housing to very low-income residents 62 and older with incomes at or below 50 percent of area median income. some 210 of its residents receive HUD subsidies. In August, 2019, however, the subsidy agreement with HUD was scheduled to expire. Bad news, indeed, for those 210 residents. Absent HUD subsidies rents are no longer capped and can go up as high and as fast as the private market will bear.
Rent increases, in turn, would put pressure on elderly residents on fixed incomes. They'd either have to keep up or find a new place to live. Tough stuff in Eugene where ever-growing enrollments at the University of Oregon exerts a steady, upward pressure on market rents or where, the city reported in 2015, more than three-quarters of renters spend more than 30 percent and more than 50 percent spend more than half their monthly incomes on housing.
In April, 2017, Oregon Housing and Community Services staff advised the Housing Stability Council that Eugene had only 679 affordable housing units for seniors. Were Ya-Po-Ah's subsidies lost and its units put at the mercy of the market, the affordable stock for seniors would shrink and can meet only 10 percent of the need. In a market so tight, finding an affordable rental would have been a difficult and, for some displaced from Ya-Po-Ah even impossible challenge.
It's a challenge they no longer face. During her visit Governor Brown said an FHA mortgage refinance would be sought, long-term HUD rent subsidies renewed and, with the infusion of new funds, the units srehabilitated. "I was ecstatic as many of us are here. You know, they're going to be replacing and repairing things here. It's not that this place is bad now. But any extra help is going to be wonderful," Patti Free, a Ya-Po-Ah resident, told KEZI-TV.
The preservation of Ya-Po-Ah's as affordable housing was one of eight projects approved in April by the Council to award Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, HUD HOME or CDBG funds and state aid to build 188 new affordable units in Corvallis, Milwaukie, Bend and Portland and to preserve 326 existing affordable units in Molalla, Milton-Freewater, Glendale, Rogue River, Woodlawn and, yes, Eugene.
When first proposed some 50 years ago, Ya-Po-Ah sparked opposition from people upset it would obscure their view of the Coastal Range west of Eugene. That, in turn, led to the imposition of height restrictions on any new buildings in the city. Eugene, they said, should grow out, not up. After 20 years of sprawl, the restrictions were lifted.
Meanwhile, Ya-Po-Ah did what it was supposed to do, providing more than 120,000 months of much-needed affordable, HUD-subsidized rental housing to Eugene's low-income elderly. When Governor Brown announcement that Ya-Po-Ah would continue doing so for decades to come, reported KLCC-FM, the audience "cheered and clapped." Once the neighbor no one wanted, today it's a vibrant, vital and, yes, welcome part of the community.
Given time, every good idea finally gets its due.