Salem veteran housing project to break ground in May

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In a couple of months, a new veteran’s housing project that aims to house dozens of Salem veterans will break ground.

After facing financial setbacks over the years, the YMCA’s veteran housing project has enough funding to complete construction thanks to a recent $2 million allocation in a federal spending bill President Joe Biden signed March 15.

The funding was secured by Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

The building at 220 Cottage St. NE will sit across the street from Oregon’s World War II veteran memorial, just a block from the Capitol.

Sara Webb, program manager at Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said there will be supportive services onsite, giving agencies like the Veterans Administration or Marion County Veteran’s Services space to help tenants.

“It will allow veterans to have services where they live,” she said.

The spaces aren’t meant to be transitional, and Webb said there isn’t another low-income veteran housing project that offers services in Marion County.

“It’s important to know when this project was being created, it’s really thinking about: How can we enrich the lives of veterans?” Webb said.

She said their aim is for veterans to be self-sufficient and have a well-balanced life.

The building is part of the YMCA’s commitment to offer affordable housing in Salem after the organization tore down their longstanding apartment building to make room for the expanded headquarters and fitness center currently under construction.

The new YMCA is expected to open this summer.

YMCA leaders struck a deal with Salem First Presbyterian Church, which sits on the other side of Cottage Street Northeast, for a long-term lease to build on the southwest corner of the church’s lot.

The building is being developed by the YMCA but has its own nonprofit organization, Salem Y Veterans Housing.

Chuck Adams, executive director of Salem Y Veterans Housing, said $4 million in bonds funded by the Oregon Lottery fell through in 2020 after a pandemic-induced drop in revenue.

He said they went into “panic mode” and started looking at other funding options.

In 2021, the Oregon Legislature allocated $6 million toward the project, he explained.

The recent $2 million from the federal government will get them to the $9 million needed for construction.

“Everybody’s excited about the project,” Adams said.

He said the federal money pays for the remainder of the construction costs and the archaeological review is complete.

Adams pointed to Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney’s commitment to the YMCA as reason for the project moving forward. Courtney famously lived in the YMCA’s now-demolished apartment building when he first arrived in Salem on a Greyhound bus in 1969. He’s been a member since.

“None of it would’ve happened without the efforts of Senator Courtney,” he said.

The facility will have 1- and 2-bedroom units, 34 total, and will serve Salem veterans and residents making an area median income of 60% or below.

In Salem, a single person making $29,700 or less would qualify.

The veterans chosen to stay there will be referred through the region’s coordinated entry system.

Veterans will get free memberships to the new YMCA across the street, giving them a “community to connect with,” Adams said.

It will also offer services like mental health support and financial literacy training.