Housing Works plans to close on school property next month

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Construction start date dependent upon receiving low-income housing tax credits from the State of Oregon

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - The sale of the Ochoco Elementary School building to Housing Works has been pending for several months, but the local housing authority plans to close on the property next month.

Housing Works is inching toward the closing date for purchase of the Ochoco Elementary property, but tax credit concerns could impact when construction begins.

Tom Kemper, executive director of the local housing authority, said that Housing Works expects to close sometime in April. But once they take ownership of the property, they will have to wait and see if they receive enough in low income housing tax credits to fund construction of the project.

Kemper explained that the Trump administration is reducing the amount of corporate tax rates, which help fund the federal tax credits that Housing Works relies on for its facilities.

"What that means is that instead of getting over a dollar for a tax credit, we are expecting to get maybe 88 cents," he said. "That is a really big deal."

Housing Works is hoping that the State of Oregon will provide additional low income housing tax credits to make up the difference.

Housing Works received approval of a purchase agreement for the 6-acre Ochoco Elementary property in February 2016. They later received a conditional use permit for the facility from the City of Prineville in July. The local housing authority intends to convert the 72-year-old school building to an affordable housing complex, turning 22 of the former classrooms into dwellings for qualifying low-income families. Additional plans include use of the school's cafeteria building for Head Start and construction of a park near on the east side of the property.

"It is a very complicated deal," Kemper said. "We are going to partition it into three pieces. The gym we are going to lease to (Crook County) Parks and Rec. In addition to that, they want to do a park."

To enable construction of the park, Kemper said they will give the parks district the land "that is land-locked" on the property. Exact dimensions of the park are unclear at this point.

"We are going to lease the cafeteria building (to NeighborImpact) so they can do a Head Start building there," he added. "The area in front of that building (facing north) is going to be re-landscaped. They have a grant for that."

Kemper said that the incoming facility will be similar to other Housing Works projects throughout Central Oregon in the sense that they will feature one, two and three-bedroom dwellings.

"But it's very different because we are basically converting what was an elementary school to housing," he continued. "It is a very unique opportunity. I have never done a deal that had a full-size gym that had a performing arts stage. That is astonishing and it's really, really cool ... It's a really fun transaction."