'It's a godsend'

911 survivor finds comfort in Medford's new low-income housing development
Darleen Anderson, a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City, was one of the first people to move into the new Cherry Creek Apartments on Spring Street in east Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

On Sept. 11, 2001, Darleen Anderson was trapped for 40 minutes under rubble and dust in her apartment after the World Trade Center collapsed across the street.

Anderson lost her partner of eight years in the destruction that claimed the lives of 2,977 other people during the terrorist attack on New York that shook the nation and spawned two wars.

"I've gone through complete hell," said the 60-year-old Medford resident, who still has fine powder from the debris trapped in her lungs. "Right now, my life is about oxygen and medications."

After 12 agonizing years of doctors and hospitals, Anderson became one of the first residents to move into the low-income Cherry Creek apartments, which were officially completed Thursday.

Representatives from the Housing Authority of Jackson County, Oregon Housing and Community Services and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development welcomed about 50 local officials to a ribbon-cutting Thursday.

The 50-unit housing project was strenuously opposed by neighbors in the Spring Street area of east Medford. But after everything she's been through, Anderson said the neighborhood dispute barely registers with her as she struggles with her health and her memories filled with fear and longing.

"I miss New York, but I don't really want to move back now," she said. "I just couldn't deal with it. I lost so many friends."

Anderson, who is on disability, said the Housing Authority worked diligently to place her in one of the two-bedroom apartments, where she lives with another woman, who is her partner and helps her with her disability.

She has trouble walking and quickly runs out of breath. Her partner, Evelyn Anderson, has to check to make sure she is still breathing three or four times a night. At her partner's suggestion, she moved to the West Coast.

A waitress who thrived on the hectic pace of New York City for 47 years, Anderson said Medford offers a relatively tranquil lifestyle, and her apartment offers her a comfortable place to live.

"I like it very much," she said.

Anderson said she'd rubbed shoulders with celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Robert De Niro, John Lennon and George Harrison.

Anderson didn't attend the ribbon cutting, but local officials who did got a chance to see the cluster of two-story buildings with a central playground for children and a community building.

A wrought-iron fence and extensive landscaping surrounds much of the development, which is located next to Donahue-Frohnmayer Park.

The project was rejected by Medford City Council in September 2011, but the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled that the city erred in denying the Housing Authority's application.

The Housing Authority threatened a discrimination lawsuit against the city, which led to a compromise over the project.

The Housing Authority reduced the size of the project from 100 units to 50 units on Spring Street and transferred 2.5 acres of the 6-acre property to the city for park land and a buffer between the complex and Spring Street. The Housing Authority gave $150,000 to the city for development costs for the transferred property.

In exchange, the city swapped a commercially zoned lot at the corner of Sixth and Grape streets downtown to the Housing Authority, which plans to build a 30,000-square-foot building that would contain 50 units of low-income housing.

The $10 million Cherry Creek project was designed by Daniel R. Horton Architecture of Eagle Point and built by Adroit Construction Co. of Ashland.

The apartments are available to low-income residents, with one-bedroom apartments starting at $400 and three-bedrooms units at $560. To qualify, a family of four would have to earn less than $31,740 a year, or 60 percent of the median income.

Demand for the units, some of which have wheelchair-accessible showers and sinks, is high, officials said.

"This entire complex was filled when we opened the wait list two months ago," said Jason Elzy, director of development for the Housing Authority, which has 1,300 units available in Southern Oregon.

Elzy said he could easily fill an additional 2,500 units because so many families have seen their incomes drop or have been forced to take lower-paying jobs when the economy tumbled.

Some residents such as Anderson were relieved to find themselves in clean, well-cared for apartments and grounds.

"It's a godsend," Anderson said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.



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