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Court, Senior Center discuss vision for rental housing

Harney County Senior and Community Services Center Executive Director Angela Lamborn attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court on May 3 to discuss a request to donate county property to the Senior Center.

Harney County Judge Pete Runnels explained that the county acquired the property, which is located on East Monroe Street, through foreclosure.

The goal is to create a habitable rental property that would be managed by a limited liability company that is being established by the Senior Center.

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens said, “So let me make sure I’m tracking this right. The county donates to the Senior Center, the Senior Center remodels it to make it for the rental, the rental is for the community, and the proceeds for the rental go back to paying off the investment of the senior center?”

“The investment of the Senior Center and, eventually, to be income to the Senior Center for support of the programs that we provide to the community,” Lamborn replied.

Owens asked how long it would take for the Senior Center to recoup its investment, and Lamborn estimated that it will be about 15-20 years before the property will begin making money.

“The Senior Center is willing to take on that investment for this first one,” Lamborn said, adding that it will give the center an “asset to start going out for grant funding, figuring new builds, those sorts of things.”

Lamborn estimated that monthly rent for the two-bedroom home will be between $525-$600 per month. She added that the house will be remodeled so that it’s accessible for people with disabilities.

“There’s not a lot of housing for folks with disabilities, folks in wheelchairs, that kind of thing, and by doing some pretty basic adjustments, we’ll be able to make that one of those units that we’re lacking in the community,” she said.

Lamborn explained that the Senior Center is looking into property management and doing some new builds and remodels in an effort to respond to community concerns regarding a lack of available rental property.

“At the Senior Center, when I started seven years ago, I would have said, ‘Oh, we don’t really have much of a homeless problem now.’ But now I can’t say that. We have a huge homeless problem,” Lamborn said.

The long-term goal is to remodel multiple properties and build new structures, such as a senior apartment complex.

“It’s kind of a two-armed [approach]. We want to look at cleaning up the community and making houses that aren’t really habitable now habitable and rentable. At the same time, we really want to work on a bigger new build, multi-unit project,” Lamborn said.

In addition to being accessible to individuals with disabilities, the properties will all be Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved.

“We have a caseload of eight people with HUD vouchers and qualifying for our programs for government assistance that don’t have a unit to rent, so that’s how deep of an issue our rental situation is,” Lamborn said.

Although HUD vouchers will be accepted, these open-market properties will be available to a variety of renters, including veterans, seasonal Forest Service employees, and others who are in need of housing.

“It’s an integrated housing project, so it kind of taps all of those issues,” Lamborn said.

Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh said, “That’s the best approach.”

As part of the vision, Runnels said he’d like to incorporate shop students from Burns and Crane high schools as well as Treasure Valley Community College students in the remodeling process.

Dorroh said this could also provide an opportunity for justice reinvestment, and she asked how the court might be involved in  the future.

Lamborn replied that the court can look at other foreclosed properties and provide letters of support in the grant application process.

A public hearing will be scheduled to discuss the matter further.

•••

Runnels said a job description is needed for the Harney County Economic Development director position.

“There are no requirements put forward for this contract position,” Runnels said. “I want to have a discussion. I want to make notes of what we want to see out of that office. And from that, we will put together a job description.”

Barbara Cannady said she’d like the director to keep inventories of all available buildings and needed community services.

Owens, Runnels and Dorroh expressed the need for an updated vision and strategic plan.

Dorroh also stated that she’d like the director to bring the office’s marketing materials and website “up to speed.”

Cannady said the director should have ongoing communication with realtors, bankers, and economic development agencies. She also suggested that the director accompany clients as they visit potential sites, meet with bankers, etc.

Dorroh said the director should be able to make recommendations to the court and participate with relevant boards and committees.

Owens suggested that the director act as a liaison between clients and the cities and provide personal outreach to existing businesses.

Runnels contacted the cities of Burns and Hines for additional input. Owens also suggested garnering input from the Harney County Chamber of Commerce.

•••

In other business, the court:

• approved a fund exchange agreement for the Pine Creek Road overlay project.

Runnels explained that the agreement is “an exchange of dollars between federal and state.”

Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella said, “It’s a way to run the money through the state and relinquish some of those requirements that the feds would have;”

• continued its conversation concerning flooding in Harney County;

• was addressed during the public comment period by Interim Fair Manager Rick Paul who reported that he didn’t charge Rep. Greg Walden a fee for use of the Memorial Building.

“The logic is it’s a public service facility, and it’s a public service to have a representative here to meet with the public,” Paul said.

“It’s a good gesture from the community,” Runnels said;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received the Malheur National Forest Schedule of Proposed Actions for Spring 2017;

• received correspondence from the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, which sated that the department reviewed the county’s single audit reports for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, and, “The subrecipient had no federal program audit findings that require  contributing agencies to issue a management decision;”

• will hold a public hearing Wednesday, May 10 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Crane High School Staff Lounge;

• will hold a public hearing Thursday, May 18 from 5:30-7 p.m. at Fields School;

• will hold a budget hearing May 10 starting at 10:30 a.m. at the courthouse.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, May 17, at 10 a.m. at the courthouse.

Samantha White

Samantha White was born and raised in Harney County, and she graduated from Burns High School in 2005. After high school, she attended the University of Oregon where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in magazine journalism. White was hired as a reporter for the Burns Times-Herald in September 2012.

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