In the next year, expect to see bulldozers, excavators and more construction equipment working on the vacant lots owned by — and adjacent to — Christ United Methodist Church Cedar Mill in Portland as the church builds the first-of-its-kind, affordable housing project for LGBTQ+ senior citizens in the community.
The church was notified this week that their $5.4 million housing bond from local government entity Metro was granted for the project. It was the last piece of funding the church needed to secure to get to work on its $15 million Saltzman Road Apartment Complex.
“Conversations about this project have been going on for five-plus years,” said Rev. Ric Shewell. “Through a pastor change, a family medical crisis, and a pandemic, the church has been constant in pursuing this mission. It’s strangely fitting, exciting, and hopeful, that this project is moving forward now while we are also working our way back into more in-person worship opportunities.”
The church has secured other grants and loans to help finance the project, which will be a 53-unit apartment complex located on two vacant lots the church owns. The goal is to provide affordable housing for LGBTQ+ senior citizens who are often lacking adequate and affordable housing.
“It’s one of the first of its kind in Portland, affirming LGBTQ+ seniors as an explicit part of the church’s values and mission,” Shewell said.
According to SAGE Metro of Portland, an LGBTQ+ senior citizen advocacy organization, LGBTQ+ older adults often face significant obstacles, including discrimination and even abuse, when securing housing. SAGE Metro Portland advocates for “safe and welcoming housing” by working with senior housing facilities to create inclusive environments.
SAGE reports LGBTQ+ senior adults are twice as likely to be single, three to four times less likely to have children, are frequently estranged from families of origin, report to have experienced discrimination in housing and fear the need to “re-closet” in senior living communities.
The remainder of this year will be spent on acquiring building and land use permits from the county, while simultaneously finalizing designs with partners at Home First Development Partners and SAGE Metro Portland while also developing a construction schedule, Shewell said.
Deanna Middleton, a member of the Christ UMC congregation who has taken an active role in developing the affordable housing project, is excited the church has secured the final piece of funding to make its dream become a reality.
“I’m so proud of our church for pursuing this mission through many obstacles and for the unanimous vote from those attending the church wide meeting last fall to keep this project as a priority. It is so energizing to be a part of a congregation that is looking ahead, even in a pandemic,” Middleton said.
For as long as she has been part of Christ UMC, Middleton said the church has been working to be an open and welcoming congregation. In 2019 she was part of the team that helped the church vote to join the Reconciling Ministries Network.
“Working to create fully inclusive, senior housing that allows seniors to age in place is seeing our reconciling welcome statement come to life,” she said. “I am so happy we can work with Sage Metro to help us create a safe, inclusive, welcoming housing option for the elders in the LGBTQ community. This housing project is just one way our church is answering the question of ‘What would Jesus do?’ in our community.”