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$48 million housing plan approved for Liberty Park

Photo courtesy of Rubicon Investments and Edlen & Co. An illustration shows what the 115-unit, low-income apartment complex might look like in the Liberty Park neighborhood.
Funding hurdles remain for 115-unit complex intended for low-income families

Medford’s affordable housing efforts could get a shot in the arm from a proposed $48 million low-income apartment building just north of downtown.

The four-story complex with 115 one- to three-bedroom units would be built adjacent to Les Schwab on a 3.25-acre Central Avenue property in the Liberty Park neighborhood.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency unanimously approved an option agreement Thursday night with Rubicon Investments and Edlen & Co. that sets the stage for a complicated round of financing from federal, state and conventional sources to get the project off the ground.

“We think this project will score pretty well,” said Daniel Bunn, president and chief executive officer for Rubicon. “We’re still hurting from the wildfires.”

Jackson County lost 2,500 residential units, many of them low-income housing, from the Almeda fire. Even before the fire, affordable housing was scarce.

Rubicon and Edlen were selected by MURA in 2021 to develop plans for the apartments, which must house those who earn 60% or less of area median income, or $41,000 annually for a family of four.

The rents would be $725 a month for a one-bedroom, $867 for a two-bedroom and $997 for a three-bedroom.

MURA would invest $4.2 million into the project along with providing the land. State dollars would bring in $12.5 million under the Local Innovation and Fast Track housing program and another $20 million in federal money. The remainder would come from a conventional bank loan.

To make the project work financially, Medford City Council is going to consider a property tax abatement to help secure the $7.5 million conventional loan.

Even with all these funding sources, it is a struggle to get the all the financing pieces together to make the project work.

“Nobody’s getting rich off of affordable housing,” Bunn said.

If built, the project would fulfill a long-standing effort by MURA to enhance the low-income Liberty Park neighborhood and create more residences near downtown.

Bunn said the northern part of the state, particularly around Portland, has received LIFT funds for various projects, but it’s time for Medford to get its share, particularly after the devastation of the 2020 fires.

The project was initially imagined as a 144-unit complex, but the demand for family-sized apartments has gone up since the project was proposed.

“We will probably end up having less units,” Bunn said. “The feedback has been for more two-bedroom and three-bedroom units.”

The bigger units work out to about 115 apartments, he said.
 Grant approvals could come by August, which would trigger a nine-month planning process.

Building could start in spring or summer 2023, with completion sometime in 2024.

The building would form a U-shape, with the main entrance located against the sidewalk on Central Avenue. The middle portion would create a courtyard.

Bunn said the design will take into account noise from adjacent railroad tracks. A fence would be built to isolate the apartments from the tracks.

The building would be similar in height to the Jackson County Housing Authority’s apartment complex behind the Mail Tribune at the corner of Sixth and Grape streets, though it would be more than twice as large.

A warehouse on the property would have to be demolished to make room for the apartments.

Bunn said the project would have an elevator, and plans are still being developed for possible play areas for children.

Since the apartments are on a main bus line, there would be an effort to develop a bus stop with a covered area, Bunn said.

Harry Weiss, MURA director, said once the funding is secured, MURA could enter into another agreement that would give the developers the green light to begin the project.

“At that point, we would give them the land and the $4.2 million in cash,” he said.

Based on the rent schedule for the apartments, the project can only afford conventional financing for a $7.5 million loan, Weiss said.

The project won’t be able to move forward unless all of the financing falls into place.

“Nothing happens if they don’t get these huge chunks of money,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.