Portsmouth Union earns $2.35 million for affordable housing project


What started more than five years ago as a ministry to the local neighborhood is finally taking root on the grounds of Portsmouth Union Church in north Portland.

The church, a combined United Methodist and Disciples of Christ Church, is the recipient of a $2.35 million grant from Oregon Housing and Community Services to build an affordable housing apartment complex on its grounds.

“I can’t even begin to describe how excited we are,” said Rev. Julia Nielsen.

Portsmouth Union Church is one of only two faith communities to ever receive significant grant funding from OHCS for an affordable housing project.

“OHCS’ Statewide Housing Plan set forth ambitious goals to meet the housing needs of Oregonians,” said Nicole Stoenner, the agency’s legislative and communications coordinator. “We will need all sectors at the table to create prosperity for our friends and neighbors.”

This means the congregation can finish its permitting process and break ground in the next year, with the hope of having housing available in the summer of 2021.

In the summer of 2018, the church demolished 1/3 of its building and an unused parsonage to make room on the west end of the lot for a 20-unit, multi-family apartment complex.

Nielsen, who also works in community development, pursued a lot of avenues for funding the project along with ministry partner, Rev. Andy Goebel. Portsmouth Commons represents a partnership between the church, Do Good Multnomah, the National Association for Black Veterans, the Native American Rehabilitation Association and the African American Alliance for Homeownership.

The church has done a great deal of legwork to get to this point, with church fundraising efforts and a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust funding predevelopment work (everything from designing and developing drawings to demolition and surveys).

Receiving the grant means this project can get off the ground without needing additional financing. Though the grant was slightly less than the $2.6 million originally requested, Nielsen said the apartment building will still get built, it just means program assistance the church intended to provide renters won’t yet happen.

Twice a year Oregon Housing and Community Services opens “notice of funding available” Stoenner said. The grants are comprised of state and federal funds. But those funds are broken into different groups during the application process. There is funding for large developments, small urban developments and small rural developments. Being part of the small urban development category meant Portsmouth Union didn’t have to compete against large-scale projects for approval.

Faith partners are on the frontline of homeless services and shelter in many Oregon communities and Stoenner said those groups work with local Community Action Agencies to ensure community members are aware of the services they provide, including OHCS-funded energy assistance.

Portsmouth Union Church isn’t the first faith site OHCS has funded. Stoenner said the St. James Apartments in Portland, which was funded by OHCS in the 1990s, was also in partnership with a local faith community -- that time being St. James Lutheran Church in downtown Portland.

“We’re always excited to bring new partners into the process,” she said. “No one person, entity or agency can ensure that each and every Oregonian has a safe and stable home. We are in this together.”