Innovative Housing, Inc. Newsletter
In This Issue
From Our E.D.
A Commitment to Equity
A New Home
Where is Innovative Changes Now?
It's a Brick House!
Fruit, Vegetables, and...Zumba?
Golf for Housing!
Let's do Lunch...Together!

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Summer 2013

From IHI's Executive Director
Sarah J. Stevenson

I've been thinking a lot about access and opportunity lately. Opportunity is at the heart of our American Dream. It is the key to success - without opportunity, none of us could develop our full potential and thrive. For many of us, it feels like opportunities abound - educational opportunities, employment opportunities, and housing opportunities. Even for people struggling to meet basic needs, service agencies provide opportunities for people to move off the street, escape domestic violence, address drug and alcohol addiction, access medical services, and change unhealthy behaviors to healthy lifestyles. With so many opportunities, how can anyone fail except by choice?


Unfortunately, we all know it isn't that simple. Opportunity means very little without meaningful access. Students at failing schools don't have true access to educational success, people without college degrees rarely have access to high paying jobs, and households with rocky credit, rental, or criminal histories don't really have access to housing. Access is a critical piece of the puzzle and one that typically presents the greatest challenges - to people who need it as well as those of us seeking to provide it.


Even if opportunities are literally and physically accessible, it often takes knowledge and navigational skills to unlock them. Many of us take our ability to access opportunity for granted. When I need something, I generally know how to get it. If I don't, someone I know does. And when I face obstacles, I have the self confidence and sense of entitlement necessary to persevere until I overcome them. There are many reasons that someone experiencing third or fourth generation poverty, a history of trauma, or whose social network does not include people with systems knowledge may not enjoy the same success. It can be difficult to understand the mental and emotional barriers that prevent some people from accessing opportunities, but we must recognize that these obstacles are real.


The flip side is that those of us who create opportunities must learn how to offer them in a way that they can be accessed. Personal history and perspective make a big difference in how people approach and perceive opportunity. At IHI we know that we need to develop relationships with people before they will ask for or accept our assistance, we need to be sensitive to cultural norms, and that we may need to adapt our approach to people with histories of trauma. We know that to create meaningful housing opportunities we must do more than simply build apartments, which is why IHI is focusing on helping people learn how to access rental housing. Not just IHI's housing and not just affordable housing, but any rental housing. We are developing clear written guidelines and a brief training curriculum designed to demystify the rental application and screening process. Everyone seeking housing should know their rights and be aware of the barriers they may face when it comes to screening criteria. We will be working with community partners to broadly distribute this information and ensure that it reaches Portland's diverse cultural communities.


Access and opportunity. At IHI we know how to develop housing opportunities. The tougher part of the success equation, and our current challenge, is unlocking access for everyone.

A Commitment to Equity

Where we live strongly influences how we live and shapes our fundamental quality of life. Unfortunately, housing was one of the last bastions of legalized segregation, with redlining and other forms of discrimination surviving into our very recent past. Portland has a particularly troubled history with regard to race and housing - in 1945 the Social Work Journal declared Portland the most discriminatory city north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Today, fair housing laws provide protection against most blatant discrimination, but there is still much work needed to address the residual effects of this ugly history. As a housing organization dedicated to providing safe, affordable housing to all people, Innovative Housing is committed to removing obstacles, increasing accessibility, and expanding our outreach to communities that have experienced exclusion and discrimination.


In December 2012, IHI's board formally adopted an Equity Plan that creates goals and action items for IHI to ensure inclusion, proactive outreach, and cultural competency across all lines of our business. This includes our rental housing, internal operations, development activities, resident services, and property operations. Beyond housing itself, IHI is working to diversify our board and staff, maintain high MWESB contracting rates during construction, and utilize minority and women-owned businesses in the day-to-day operations of our properties.


At our properties, the focus is on access to housing. Demographic analysis of our portfolio shows more than 50% of IHI's residents are people of color. But there are still some groups that are underrepresented in our housing, so we are reaching out to leaders and representatives from these communities to identify changes to our physical developments, marketing, and operations that will make IHI's housing more welcoming and accessible. We have adapted our screening criteria to remove unnecessary barriers to housing. For example, IHI does not require social security numbers and has relaxed credit history requirements. We are working with Community Vision, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find accessible housing, to improve physical accessibility at our properties and move beyond ADA requirements to create truly functional spaces for people with mobility impairments.


Access is a critical first step, but we know that home also means a place to feel welcomed, respected, and supported. IHI dedicates over half of our staff to providing services and creating communities where people can thrive. IHI's culturally competent staff provides high quality services to residents of all races and cultures. We also work with culturally specific partners to meet the needs of our residents.


IHI takes housing seriously and we believe everyone deserves a safe, affordable home. We will continue developing housing, supporting our residents, and working to improve access so the housing opportunities we create can truly be homes for all people.

A New Home

Jerry Axtell, a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy, lived at the Woodland Square Trailer Park in Albany for 10 years. Jerry AxtellHis mobile home was 840 square feet and in need of repairs. His ex-wife lived a couple of spots away, in her own mobile home.


IHI acquired Woodland Square in February 2013 and intends to redevelop it as affordable workforce housing. Oregon law mandates that property owners who close trailer parks pay each mobile home owner a certain amount to help with relocation. In the case of Woodland Square, that amount is $5,000. IHI has been talking with residents and neighbors for over a year, in both English and Spanish, to learn more about the community's housing needs and to convey information about residents' rights in the event of a park closure. When IHI issued its official closure notice in April, staff and translators were on site to answer questions and provide housing resources to residents. Since that meeting, over half of Woodland Square's residents have found new homes.


When Jerry learned about the park closure, he decided to parlay his relocation payment into the purchase of a new house. As a veteran, Jerry was eligible for VA financing and was able to leverage his $5,000 toward the purchase of a single family home in the nearby community of Lebanon. His new house has 2 bedrooms and a yard, and is in a

familiar neighborhood. Jerry loves the idea of owning his own land and is currently tearing out shrubbery to make his new home more welcoming. His new place is even big enough for two-he is letting his ex-wife live there until she can find a place of her own.


IHI is excited that, in addition to eventually creating 54 new affordable apartments for Albany, our redevelopment of Woodland Square created an opportunity for Jerry to move from a dilapidated trailer into a single family home. We wish Jerry (and his ex-wife, Angela) the best of luck!

Where is
Innovative Changes Now?

Many of you may remember that Innovative Housing launched an alternative payday loan company in early 2010.  Ever wonder how it is doing?  Innovative Changes (IC$) is now an independent nonprofit and a certified Community Development Financial Institution.  IC$ pairs comprehensive financial education with loan products to help low income people bridge cash gaps and build better credit.  Working with community-based partners who refer borrowers for education and loans, IC$ celebrated its 500th loan in May, 2013!


IC$ remains a unique financial entity - making unsecured consumer loans to low-income borrowers is still a very rare practice.  IC$'s credit builder loan was so cutting edge in 2010 that it won the national Credit Builder Alliance's Innovator of the Year Award.  IC$ has continued to innovate in response to client needs and now offers several other tools to help low-income households achieve and maintain financial stability.  These include Financial Empowerment Clinics, Women Borrowers Support Groups, Education IDAs, Financial Education in both Spanish and English (with more languages coming soon!), a Dreamer Loan to help with the cost of applying for Deferred Action, and a loan to help disabled individuals acquire adaptive technology.


IHI is very proud to be part of such a great organization.  To learn more about Innovative Changes and its services, please visit  

It's a Brick House! 


The Magnolia, IHI's new 50 unit apartment building in Northeast Portland, is nearing completion. Brick masons are wrapping up the exterior and interior finishes are starting to make it feel like home! Affordable one and two-bedroom apartments will be ready for new residents in September 2013. For information about renting at The Magnolia, please call (971) 300-9944.
Fruit, Vegetables, and...Zumba?   

IHI works closely with many community partners who share our goal of helping low-income households access opportunities and resources. These partnerships enhance IHI's Resident Services program by contributing to the diversity of on-site programming and creating unique opportunities for residents to connect with their local community. zumbaThis summer, IHI's long-term partnership with the Oregon Food Bank is bringing free Zumba classes to residents of Hewitt Place.


The Oregon Food Bank (OFB) and IHI have been partners since 2008 when Hewitt Place became a site for Harvest Share, a monthly fresh food giveaway event. OFB recently received funding to bring Zumba classes to Harvest Share sites (in case you are wondering, Zumba is a dance/fitness class that blends upbeat world rhythms with easy-to-follow choreography for a total-body workout). OFB contacted IHI's Family Resident Services Manager, Emma Martinez, to see if she knew of any residents who would be interested in taking a Zumba instruction certification course and teaching free Zumba classes at Hewitt Place. Emma immediately thought of Amanda, whom she knew had an interest in teaching fitness classes.


Amanda is currently completing her certification course and working with OFB and IHI to promote free Zumba classes for residents at Hewitt Place. Thanks to a great partnership with the Oregon Food Bank, Amanda is living her dream as a Zumba instructor and IHI residents have access to a free, healthy, and fun exercise class where they live!

Golf for Housing!


IHI is happy to announce that we were once again selected as a beneficiary of Walsh Construction Company's Charity Golf Tournament. Sponsors and golfers gathered at Langdon Farms Golf Course on July 16th for a day of sun, fun, and golf! A highlight of the event was the helicopter ball drop and 50/50 raffle, with half the proceeds going to charity and half to a lucky raffle ticket owner.


In addition to IHI, Union Labor Retirement Association and Lifeworks benefited from this fundraising event generously sponsored and organized by Walsh Construction Co. IHI extends its sincere thanks to Walsh for supporting our work and letting us be a part of this fun summer event.  

Let's do Lunch...Together!

When the East Gresham Elementary SUN School Program found out that it wouldn't be able to serve Summer Lunches due to construction near the school, lunchIHI and SUN program staff put their heads together.IHI's Resident Services staff has worked closely with the East Gresham Elementary SUN school for several years - now we are merging our summer lunch programs for five weeks to ensure that all families in the Gresham community are able to access free lunches this summer.  IHI and SUN staff will work together to serve lunches at IHI's Village Square Apartments. This strategic partnership between IHI and our local SUN school ensures that fun, safe summer activities and nutritious meals are available to residents at Village Square as well as our surrounding community. It also results in more staff to support the program, which translates into more happy and healthy kids!

Innovative Housing Inc.                                                                    2011