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MURA hopes to improve its shot at housing grant

Medford was turned down for a grant critical to low-income housing project in Liberty Park neighborhood
A man rides his bike past Liberty Park in Medford. The Liberty Park neighborhood has been the focus of efforts by MURA to build more affordable housing. [Mail Tribune /file photo]

Medford Urban Renewal Agency wants to take another crack at securing a state grant to help finance a low-income apartment building in the Liberty Park neighborhood just north of downtown.

MURA and Rubicon Investments and Edlen & Co. didn’t qualify for a $12.5 million Local Innovation and Fast Track housing program grant this year, so they are considering applying again next year.

“It’s a wonderful project,” said MURA board member Tim D’Alessandro.

The MURA board last Thursday signaled it could take action at an upcoming meeting to extend an option agreement with Rubicon through 2023 in order to make another application for the state grant next year.

The next round of grants is being changed to create a pool of funding for Metro Portland proposals and a separate one for other urban areas around the state. This approach should allow more communities such as Medford to get a piece of the grant pie.

Medford’s proposal calls for building the four-story Dolores Huerta Apartments with 115 one- to three-bedroom units just north of Les Schwab on a 3.25-acre Central Avenue property in the Liberty Park neighborhood.

To build the $50 million project and keep it low-income, the city needs to secure a number of government grants in addition to conventional financing.

Rubicon and Edlen were selected by MURA in 2022 to develop plans for the apartments, which must house those who earn 60% or less of area median income, or $45,000 annually for a family of four.

The rents, based on current regulations, would be $860 a month for a one-bedroom, $1,032 for a two-bedroom and $1,192 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 low-income tax credits. 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 conventional loan.

The Medford project faced stiff competition from other projects in the northern part of the state.

Daniel Bunn, Rubicon president and chief executive officer, said the application didn’t score as high as other projects in the Portland area partly because Portland has a significantly greater number of organizations that have experience providing housing to minorities.

He said Medford competed for an $18 million pot of money that was going to be distributed to large cities such as Portland, Eugene and Bend.

In the next round, the state plans to divide the money into different pools to give Medford and other communities a better shot at the grant.

Also, the state gave Medford some feedback on how to improve its scoring the next time.

“As Medford, we’re trying to put our best foot forward,” Bunn said.

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