Finishing touches are nearly complete on Iris Place, the newest affordable-housing property developed by St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), at 1531-1563 River Road in Eugene.

The opening of Iris Place will add 53 quality one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments to the local inventory of housing within reach for low-income residents, with actual rents of $510, $610 and $695 per month. The property’s apartments are already spoken for, following the opening of a waitlist in June.

The first residents of Iris Place will start moving in sometime after Thanksgiving, just after workers complete landscaping, site cleanup and other final tasks around the property — and after final occupancy permits are approved.

“We’re happy for this project to wrap up after more than a year of construction, but more importantly, we’re excited for the new opportunities created by Iris Place for many of our low-income neighbors,” said SVdP Executive Director Terry McDonald. “There is a greater-than-ever need for affordable housing in this community and this state.”

Eugene’s largest nonprofit human-services provider, SVdP has long recognized that affordable housing availability strongly impacts homelessness and poverty rates in its service areas. In fact, according to a 2021 National Low Income Housing Coalition report, only 25 affordable rentals are available, on average, for every 100 qualifying households in this state. That puts Oregon at No. 48 out of all 50 states in housing availability for extremely low-income renters.

As a property developer, SVdP has worked for more than three decades to help build a way out of the state’s worsening affordability crisis. The agency has developed about 1,600 affordable-housing units in Lane, Linn and Marion counties since 1988, and its own property-management department today manages some 1,500 units.

At Iris Place, most of the units are for households with income at or below 50 percent of area median income (AMI), which is currently $35,600 for a four-person household. Five units are for households at or below 30 percent of AMI, currently $14,700 for one person.

Additionally, five units are set aside to provide safe, permanent housing for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are served by the Hope & Safety Alliance. “We are excited about this partnership with SVdP to help survivors find safe homes and begin to move from surviving to thriving,” said Julie Weismann, executive director of Hope & Safety Alliance.

Built to connect, enrich and sustain

Designed by BDA Architecture and Planning, Iris Place includes a mix of nine two- and three-story residential buildings containing both townhome and flat-style apartments. The property’s configuration encourages neighbors to connect via a courtyard, playground and pathways through the vibrantly landscaped grounds. And an innovative community building at the heart of the property creates opportunities for residents to learn and grow.

In that central space, SVdP’s Resident Services staff and other service providers will offer many enrichment opportunities for tenants — with the intent to present more in-person activities as COVID-19 safety protocols allow. Examples include classes and services to promote health and wellness, self-sufficiency and financial literacy, along with fun and educational children’s events.

The community building includes flexible gathering and quiet spaces, kitchen, computer area, offices, and storage for emergency supplies. Enhanced framing also gives the structure greater resilience to withstand potential earthquakes or other future emergencies.

Also, extensive sustainable-design features not only limit Iris Place’s environmental footprint, but will help maintain affordability by limiting tenants’ utility costs. Elements include enhanced insulation, air sealing and coated double-pane windows; playground and benches made from recycled plastic; rain gardens to naturally mitigate runoff; low-VOC finishes; and efficient LED lighting, Energy Star appliances, and low-flow plumbing fixtures. A rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array can power the community building and site lighting — with battery storage for limited backup emergency power — and every residential building is ready for future PV installation.

Add it all up, and Iris Place will achieve Earth Advantage Platinum Certification, which recognizes a project’s high combined scores for energy efficiency, healthy indoor air quality, resource efficiency, environmental responsibility and water conservation.

“In this time of increasing focus on sustainability and preparedness for natural disasters,” McDonald said, “Iris Place represents an important step moving forward.”

A community undertaking

The City of Eugene acquired the site for Iris Place through its Land Acquisition for Affordable Housing program. The city engaged with the River Road Community Organization (RCCO) throughout that process, and the evaluation of development proposals, and ultimately selected SVdP as developer in January 2019. Construction began in August 2020.

The $14.3 million budget included funding support from the City of Eugene; Eugene-Springfield HOME Consortium; Oregon Housing & Community Services; Key Community Development Corp.; KeyBank; Network for Affordable Housing; and Eugene Water & Electric Board.

Notably, the project concludes on schedule despite the construction timeline landing entirely within the span of the COVID-19 pandemic. McDonald credited SVdP’s housing development director, Kristen Karle, and general contractor Meili Construction for “doing a magnificent job of holding this all together” through compounding logistical, staffing and supply-chain challenges.McDonald also noted the importance of engagement with the River Road neighborhood in bringing Iris Place’s development to successful fruition.

“The project was thoroughly vetted and included the support of the neighborhood association throughout,” he said. “That’s healthy for the community; it’s a model that respects the neighbors, the neighborhood, and the process for rewarding this type of site for responsible development.”