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[Cornelius Library Rendering]CORNELIUS – It’s always nice when the morning paper or evening TV news show reports a groundbreaking or grand opening held by one of HUD’s partners.  Though HUD resources and funds are involved, most of the hard work from drawing-board to ribbon-cutting is done by our partners. They’ve earned the spotlight.

Especially welcome are stories in publications not normally focused on the work HUD and its partners do.  Like Library Journal, the largest publication targeted to librarians.

Why would librarians give a hoot about HUD? Visit Cornelius, Oregon, a once-rural, now exurban community of 12,000 residents on the western edge of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area in Washington County, Oregon. 

For a dozen years many of them have dreamt of replacing their current, admittedly “humble,” 3,000-square foot, 20,000-volume, 60,000-visitors-a-year library.  Its space, writes the City of Cornelius’ community development director Ryan Wells, “exceeded its capacity many years ago.”

On a Saturday morning in September, 2017 that dream started coming true as Mayor Jef Dalin, staff from the public library system, representatives of the non-profit affordable housing organizations Bienestar and BRIDGE Housing and scores of patrons young and old gathered on a city-owned lot at the corner of 11th and Adair in downtown to break ground for a new building to be called Cornelius Place that, said the Mayor, would become the “centerpiece of a revitalized Cornelius.”. 

Its first floor will house a 2,500 square-foot YMCA and fitness center and, next door a 14,000-square foot library, more than four times its current space with room enough for more shelves, a conference room, computer center, business center and student success center.  It will be, says Library Journal, a “small, but mighty” full-service, full spectrum library. 

That’s not all. Increasingly, The Journal reports, library systems have looked to “share buildings with schools, parks departments, retail businesses, municipal offices, and residences.”  Library systems in Chicago, San Francisco and, yes, Cornelius are among the first to partner with new affordable housing developments.

Like the 45 units of affordable rental units for people age 55 and older that will be built on the second and third floors of Cornelius Place thanks to low-income housing tax credits from Oregon Housing and Community Services, HUD-funded project-based rental vouchers from the Housing Authority of Washington County and HOME Investment partnership funds from Washington County.

They’ll go fast. Cornelius is part of a metro that may be the “hottest” rental market in the United States. The demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply and, says Bienestar’s Nathan Teske, seniors frequently find themselves priced-out of the market. The need for affordable housing “in our community is very high.”

“A win-win,” says Cynthia Parker of BRIDGE Housing. Seniors will live affordably and independently upstairs and when they want to be a part of the larger community, they just have to walk downstairs.  “Who wouldn’t,” one Bienestar staff member told The Journal, “want to live above a library.”

Stories like this one or in the local paper are good for calling deserved attention to the hard work of public and private organizations in building and rebuilding communities.   But they have a short shelf life.

Not so bricks-and-mortar.  When it opens in 2019 Cornelius Place will be the tallest building in town, hard to ignore by the 35,000 motorists who’ll pass it daily and, harder still, to miss  the message it sends loud, clear and pretty tall of a community that’s “overcome periods of hardship and economic stagnation; a Cornelius that has renewed itself to be a thriving city with drive.”

Now that’s a story that matters, a story sure to last.

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