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April 12, 2013
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Guest column: Setting a national standard for affordable housing in Roseburg

The national news media is trumpeting the rising demand for housing, which is good news for home builders and, therefore, the U.S. economy, but it’s an added challenge for those in need of affordable homes.

As housing prices rise, so does the difficulty of finding a home that is affordable, and that difficulty is one that we at NeighborWorks Umpqua address daily in Douglas, Coos, and Curry counties.

In 1991, we developed the first affordable multi-family housing complex in the region in nearly 20 years. Today, we are leading the nation in innovative ways of addressing housing needs.

We are, for instance, one of four organizations in the nation to have been selected by the U.S. Department of U.S. Veterans Affairs to build the first facilities on VA grounds for homeless veterans.

The project — known as Eagle Landing, because it’s set on the banks of the Umpqua River, with eagles soaring overhead — is being built on the VA campus in Roseburg and consists of 55 units of affordable housing of one, two, or three bedrooms each. Construction is scheduled to be completed in November.

The project will accommodate veterans of more distant wars, as well as those who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. We added two- and three-bedroom units because we are seeing a shift toward veterans with young families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

We were also recently designated by NeighborWorks America as one of 16 of its member organizations nationally — and one of only three west of the Rocky Mountains — to be named a “green organization,” based on a measurement of green business practices across their operations and all of their program areas.

In announcing this designation for the first time, NeighborWorks America noted that these 16 organizations create a sustainable business culture, and their activities “help reduce energy consumption and costs, create healthier living and working environments, and promote sustainable communities.”

Since 1991, we at NeighborWorks Umpqua have built or rehabilitated 420 units of affordable housing, in addition to the 55 under construction on the VA campus and another 40 in our pipeline. We have also helped homeowners to rehab and repair more than 200 homes. Those records are especially exciting for us, because we know firsthand what it means to help our fellow Oregonians find, keep, or improve a home that is affordable.

Not only does a home that is affordable and well-maintained improve a street, a neighborhood and a community, but we can see the benefits of that home visibly improve the lives of those who live there.

We see their stature and self-esteem altered. We see those residents carry themselves with greater pride, dress better, and be physically and emotionally changed by the experience, because the home has made them feel better about themselves.

That’s why we are so excited to be part of a new national movement trademarked Home Matters, which aims to unite America around the essential role that home plays as the bedrock for thriving lives, families and a stronger nation. The movement was launched last month in Washington, D.C., with leaders of nearly 200 housing and community development organizations from across the nation participating.

It has been spearheaded initially by the National NeighborWorks Association — of which NeighborWorks Umpqua is a member — with crucial support from Citi Community Development and Wells Fargo.

Also participating in the launch were U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and a bipartisan group of members of Congress, who represent a broad political spectrum. The presence of those members of Congress — even in a polarized Capitol — underscored that Home Matters no matter what your political beliefs.

Home Matters to Douglas, Coos, and Curry counties, and we see evidence of that every day. Home Matters to America, as is evident from the many housing and community development organizations that are part of this movement.

Residents of Douglas, Coos, and Curry counties can share their insights about why Home Matters to them by visiting its website at www.HomeMattersAmerica.com. Home Matters, America. It really does.

Betty Tamm is chief executive officer of NeighborWorks Umpqua, based in Roseburg. She can be reached at 541-673-4909 or btamm@nwumpqua.org.

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The News-Review Updated Apr 12, 2013 06:43PM Published Apr 12, 2013 02:06PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.