YMCA breaks ground on veterans housing project in downtown Salem

Article from The Statesman Journal

The Family YMCA of Marion and Polk Counties broke ground Wednesday morning on its $9 million veterans housing project.

A 34-unit apartment complex called Courtney Place will be built on the corner of Cottage and Court streets NE, across the street from the new Withnell Family YMCA.

The facility will serve veterans who need an affordable option for permanent housing and is named in honor of Sen. Peter Courtney, who led the effort to secure $7 million in funding from the Oregon Legislature during the 2019 and 2021 sessions.

Courtney and other dignitaries grabbed their hardhats and shovels before a ceremony nearby to pose for the obligatory groundbreaking photo at the gravel site.

Later, during a ceremony on the plaza of the nearby Oregon World War II Memorial, Courtney revealed it was only a week ago that he was in intensive care at Salem Health hospital after collapsing at his home.

“There’s no way I wasn’t going to be here,” he told the crowd of about 100 people, sharing how he lived in YMCA housing for two years when he first came to Salem.

The preceding speakers credited Courtney for making this day possible. They noted his passion and tenacity led to the bulk of funding for the project.

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden worked to complete the needed funding by securing $2 million in federal assistance.

The four-story apartment complex will have one- and two-bedroom units and will serve Salem veterans who can demonstrate an income equal or lower than 60% of the area median income.

Rosia Macias, a Marine veteran and YMCA board member, has seen firsthand the challenges veterans face. She is the veterans’ outreach coordinator for the Salem Veterans Center.

“We currently have 20,000 veterans in Marion and Polk county, and a high percentage of those veterans live under the federal poverty line,” Macias said. “We have 92 homeless veterans and another 61 who are experiencing housing instability.”

The Y’s Courtney Place will partner with the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency’s ARCHES program to provide on-site social service resources for residing veterans, such as mental health support and life skills training.

The process for identifying and referring veterans for the apartments has yet to be finalized, according to Sara Webb of ARCHES. There is not waiting list, at least not yet.

“We know it will fill instantly,” YMCA CEO Tim Sinatra said.

All residents will have free access to the Y programs and services.

The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs is not directly involved in the project, other than acting as a pass-through agency for the state funds.

Courtney was adamant when involved with planning for the new YMCA that housing be a part of the project. The Y was his first home in Salem.

He said he’s proud of the decision to focus this housing project on veterans near the WWII Memorial on the grounds of the Oregon State Capitol.

“I wanted to be here for this because this is special,” Courtney said. “It’s a special place for special people, and it’s put in a special place. I’m proud of that. I hope you’re proud of that, too.

“I hope that you feel as an Oregonian you can brag that we care so much for these men and women that we put a veterans’ home right next to the people’s house.”

At the end of the ceremony, the YMCA presented Courtney with a brick from the old Y housing building. An official from Key Bank also presented the YMCA a check for $75,000 for the project.

The real groundbreaking begins June 22 and estimated construction time is 13 months, according to project superintendent Grant Dixon with Beaudin Construction.

“I like the whole meaning behind this build and who it’s for,” Dixon said. “I have a lot of veterans in my family.”