Steel workers once created heavy-duty logging implements in the cavernous manufacturing plant at 888 Garfield St., which dates to 1957. After the timber industry’s decline, the facility served as mostly quiet warehouse space for several decades. Now, another generation of laborers will usher in a new era of productivity at one of West Eugene’s most prominent and long-underutilized pieces of industrial real estate. Starting in mid/late 2023, HOPE Community Corporation (the acronym stands for Housing Options Production Enterprise) will bring a bustling manufactured-home production line to life in the old American Steel facility. An estimated workforce of 112 will eventually roll four finished prefabricated homes out of the 80,000-square-foot plant’s bay doors every day when it reaches capacity.

But this will be no ordinary manufactured-home factory. It will be one of the first of its kind anywhere, practically unheard of in the industry: A nonprofit enterprise, operating alongside St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County (SVdP), dedicated to producing quality homes quickly and at reduced cost for low-income families.

The intent of this innovative new enterprise is to help remedy a severe and growing housing shortage for low-income Oregonians, including thousands whose homes burned in the calamitous 2020 wildfire season. That statewide natural disaster created even greater demand for the region’s commercial manufactured-housing industry, which was already ill-equipped to serve low-income Oregonians unable to afford or even access replacements for aging modular homes past the end of their useful life.

Through this initiative made possible by $15 million in funding from the State of Oregon in 2022, “the state will develop a profound new asset in the form of manufacturing capacity committed to serving the needs of low-income residents,” says HOPE Community Corp. President and SVdP Executive Director Terry McDonald. “We are incredibly excited about what HOPE means for the future of affordable housing in Oregon, for quality job creation, and for the great potential in bold public-nonprofit partnerships to help solve some of our most daunting problems.”

McDonald has overseen many innovative housing projects in his 50 years with SVdP, a human-services agency long committed to increasing affordable housing inventory throughout Oregon. Under his leadership, the nonprofit has developed more than 1,600 units of housing in Lane, Linn, Marion and Multnomah counties. And now he will oversee the formation of a vertically integrated housing provider able to limit costs by bringing every function — ordering, manufacturing, delivery, installation — under the nonprofit auspices of HOPE and SVdP.

McDonald says the first priority for HOPE Community Corp. will be to ramp up production of two traditional floorplans most in need by low-income buyers: a 2-bed/1-bath, approximately 800-square-foot singlewide, and a 3-bed/2-bath, 1,300-square-foot doublewide. Design priorities for the units will include energy efficiency, fire resistance and long-term resilience in the face of climate change and increasing wildfire threat.

State Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Ashland), who pushed through the state’s funding for this new enterprise, also introduced House Bill 4064, intended to expedite the siting of manufactured homes across the state. Her district lost some 2,500 housing units, including 1,500 manufactured homes and RVs, during 2020’s Almeda Fire. Few of those homes have been replaced yet — largely because of commercial manufacturers’ capacity limitations and rising costs, both of which this new nonprofit production effort are designed to address.

“I am so grateful to St. Vincent to Paul of Lane County for its vision and willingness to think big,” says Rep. Marsh. “If all goes well, in a year the homes built in this factory may be housing wildfire survivors in my own community. That’s thrilling — and it sets a path for the innovation that we need to jumpstart housing production across the state.”

Next steps toward HOPE

Engineering and early phases of site work are underway at 888 Garfield, which SVdP acquired in May 2022 with financing provided by Oregon Community Foundation. HOPE Community Corp. has employed a specialized consultancy, I-OSC of Madison, Wisc., to advise on factory layout and equipment, product design, regulatory compliance, staffing and other issues.

HOPE and SVdP are exploring partnerships with local workforce development programs, schools and trade organizations to maximize future training and mentorship opportunities when the factory begins production. Employment opportunities also will be prioritized for participants in SVdP-administered programs, such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), as they work to ascend from poverty and homelessness to stability and self-sufficiency.

An eventual next manufacturing focus for HOPE Community Corp. will be multi-bedroom, multi-bath “quint” or “quad” units to serve programs providing transitional housing for unsheltered people across the state — much like the five-unit modular apartment that SVdP recently built to house a women’s residential sober-living program (The Phoenix House) in Eugene.

Well before the start of manufacturing at 888 Garfield, SVdP will open a new St. Vinnie’s “as-is” thrift store and donation center on the site in fall 2022. It will occupy about 15,000 square feet of additional space in front of the future HOPE production facility.