Julia West House has been a part of First Presbyterian Church since 1988 and has served those in need in our community well over that time. For a time, it served as refugee housing through the Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees (SOAR) program of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, the home of Operation Nightwatch in downtown Portland, and a similar program for hospitality to the unhoused during the day. Later, Julia West House became the home of GED programs and a men’s clothing center called Best Foot Forward. Over time the broad array of services decreased as other agencies evolved, certain public funding disappeared, and the congregation became less able to support the activities while trying to maintain a building that was over 125 years old.
By early 2018, Best Foot Forward had become independent and relocated. Although FPC provided over $30,000 per year in mission support to Julia West House Operations, the cost of operations and repairs had far exceeded that amount.
On April 2018, after lengthy discussion and consideration, Session determined the best course of action would be to redevelop the property, lease it out or sell it outright. The alternatives identified by Session were intended to remove those costs from FPC and to help our mission giving go more directly to programs of urban mission rather than to maintaining a very old building. Proceeds would be used to support the mission efforts of FPC.
The Julia West Task Force was created by Session to pursue the repurposing of the Julia West House property. In the summer of 2018, the Task Force issued a request for proposals to 11 organizations (both non-profit and business corporations) engaged in the development of low-income housing. The Task Force received three conceptual proposals. From these, the Task Force recommended the selection of Community Development Partners (CDP) to act as the developer of what is now designed to be about 90 units of permanent supportive housing for low-income residents.
In September 2018, the Task Force presented its recommendations to the Session which were approved subject to approval by the FPC congregational and the Presbytery of the Cascades. Those approvals were obtained at a congregational meeting in September 2018 and a meeting of the Presbytery in November 2018.
Developing the type of housing planned for the Julia West House site requires significant public funding. That funding is often competitive and, just as often, targeted for particular types of housing in particular locations. It was not until the autumn of 2022 that the most critical funding was awarded to the project. In September, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department allocated about $22,000,000 of federal low-income housing tax credits and agreed to issue about $22,000,000 in tax-exempt bonds, for the project. In addition, $18,000,000 is to be made available for rental assistance and ongoing supportive services for the residents.
The project is planned to begin construction in early 2024. With FPC’s new mission emphasis on Love Our Neighbors, we are glad for this chance to develop secure housing for those in our city and near the neighborhood.