Written in 1982 by an original Member or Founder, now long forgotten…
The Early Days
Beginning in 1976 the neighbors who volunteered as Members of the Whiteaker Community Council faced the task of deciding how to spend Community Development Block Grant funds allocated by the City of Eugene to the Whiteaker Neighborhood. This was no easy task since the amounts to be spent were in the several hundred thousand dollars category each year for three years. Early on, money was spent on rehab loans, street trees, a community center and neighborhood staff. No one could have known that on a cold Wednesday night in November of 1977 the Whiteaker Community Council would hear for the first time an idea that eventually would lead to the birth of the East Blair Housing Coop.
At that November, 1977 meeting, Scott Clement, a graduate student in Political Science at the University of Oregon, addressed the 10 people attending the meeting. He talked about housing cooperatives and encouraged the WCC to think about using some of its Block Grant funds for such an endeavor. The Council, having been bitten by the Coop bug, decided to allocate funds in the second year of their three-year funding cycle for a feasibility study on Coop housing and money to do some economic development planning. That funding was not to begin until July, 1978, but other actors were ready to enter the unfolding drama of Coop housing.
In the early part of 1978 the Community Council received two CETA positions. Two people were hired. Duane Hall was to pursue Coop Housing and Jim McCoy was to pursue business outreach and the development of a greenhouse business. By this time Whiteaker was beginning to be seen as a hub of activity in the City of Eugene and professor Dan Goldrich of the University of Oregon Political Science Department received a grant from the National Science Foundation to be a “Social Scientist in Residence’1 working in Whiteaker.
Duane Hall only worked for four months, but he pulled together a group of Whiteaker neighbors’ which began looking into the specifics of Coop housing.
As Duane was organizing, Professor Goldrich was conducting an interview survey of 100 Whiteaker neighbors. This survey contained questions concerning a wide range of information with a few devoted to Coop housing. Over 86% of those surveyed were enthusiastically in support of the concept of cooperative housing.
After Duane left, Jim McCoy took over the CETA job organizing around the idea of Coop housing. The group Duane had pulled together evolved even further under Jim’s guidance. Research was done into coop structure; a $400 grant was received from the Mckenzie River Gathering (MRG), a local progressive foundation. The money was used to purchase materials on the how’s and why’s of coop housing. (Some of those materials later played a crucial role in the development of the EBHC.) The group of neighbors eventually incorporated as a coop corporation called CoHo (Cooperative Housing). Some of the board members of CoHo were Kenny Miller (a Hoedad tree planter) Scott Lieuallen (later County Commissioner), Harris Hofman (later on the City of Eugene Community Development Committee), Maureen Good and Patti Lam6nt (later to be WCC staff) and Frank Young (later to be NEDCO staff).
The CETA positions ended in September, 1978 and Jim McCoy was hired by the WCC to do the feasibility study and economic planning that had been budgeted into Whiteaker’s second year of Block Grant funds. CoHo continued as Jim began the key process of convincing the City of Eugene and the WCC that money in Whiteaker’s third and last year should be set aside for coop housing and for an economic development corporation called NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation). CoHo began to fall apart. It was impossible to maintain a cooperative housing corporation which owned no housing and had no funds available to purchase any. CoHo left a legacy of materials and knowledge which helped convince the WCC and later the City of Eugene Community Development Committee that coop housing was a worthwhile use of Block Grant funds.
Communities all over the country had begun to see that community-based development was a viable alternative to traditional development. NEDCO funding was now assured. It was to have two years of staff funding. That funding was to begin in November, 1979. NEDCO also received the City contract to develop a coop housing project in the Whiteaker neighborhood. On November 14, 1979 what had been a dream of some early Whiteaker pioneers was about to be turned into a reality. The road ahead however was anything but smooth.
The allocation from Block Grant funds included money to hire an Executive Director (Jim McCoy) and a Commercial Revitalization Manager (Carol Glazer). NEDCO was going to attempt buying the Red Barn on the corner of 4th and Blair, rehabilitate it and rent it out to a grocery store, bakery and other neighborhood businesses.
In addition, NEDCO hired Housing staff (Frank Young, a local real estate agent and original CoHo member) and also received $87,000 of City Block Grant funds to acquire the properties that were to be the EBHC. In November, 1979 the process was begun to release the $87,000 of acquisition funds. At this time another member of NEDCO’s development team came on the scene. Sandy Pitler, a WCC outreach worker, was assigned the task of organizing a neighborhood working group which could advise NEDCO on the development of the coop. A group called the Coop Advisory Committee was formed but only after time was taken to identify what area of Whiteaker the coop was to be located in. The NEDCO feasibility study identified both the West Butte and East Blair area of Whiteaker as likely locations. The decision to locate in East Blair was based on the fact that the Coop was intended to be a scattered site rehabilitation project and East Blair was better suited for that purpose. West Butte was found to be an ideal location for a new-construction housing cooperative.
The Advisory Committee began meeting in late 1979 and continued to meet every other week up until the EBHC’s first annual meeting, February 23, 1982. The. committee began with interested neighbors from East Blair who hoped that the houses they lived in could be acquired and they would be able to join the Cooperative. Some early members were people like Bruce Barney (later to be the first On-site Manager for NEDCO), Paul Howard (now a neighbor living on 4th Avenue), Marlene Dreeher, Shoshana Cohen, and others. The committee membership was ever changing. Old people dropped out as they moved from the area and new people joined as more and more houses were targeted as possible coop houses.
While the’ committee continued to meet and discuss the way a coop was to be organized, NEDCO was trying to pry loose the $87,000 of acquisition funds. It took over a year due to a mix-up between the City staff and HUD about the historic nature of the Coop area. Several City staff members went beyond the call of duty in attempting to get the money freed. Bob Thomas and Chris Hofmann of the City Department of Housing and Community Conservation (HCC) worked long and hard. Finally in late 1979 the money was freed up. While the negotiations to get the acquisition funds were. continuing, NEDCO looked for other funds to start the coop. The $87,000 was not really enough. There were dozens of other costs.
Maureen Good, A WCC staff member, and Carol Glazer of NEDCO pleaded with the postal worker at the Springfield district postal center. He just had to let them in. It was a cold December night and the time was 11:59 P.M. A NEDCO/WCC grant proposal to HUD’s office of Neighborhood Development (OND) had to be postmarked before 12 midnight. The postal worker saw the tears and understood how important this proposal was to those two shivering neighborhood staff people. He took it and postmarked it with the correct date. This proposal (actually there were two separate proposals – one for the coop and one for the Red Barn Market Place) was extremely important to the neighborhood. Development funds were desperately needed to insure the viability of NEDCO’s first two proposals.
It was several months later that NEDCO was to learn that the proposals were rejected. OND had received over 500 proposals and had chosen 48. The Whiteaker neighborhood had lost out. There was no time to feel sorry, staff had to continue the development process and hope funds would become available. The advisory committee kept meeting; David Edrington, the coop project architect worked with committee members on site selection. Other members worked with Sandy Pitler on Bylaws, Articles of Incorporation etc. The committee voted early on as to the type of coop it would be. It was an historic vote -the coop would be a limited equity coop. The value building up in the corporation would not go to the members but stay with the corporation. The decision was unanimous and came from the committee’s belief that the coop should be preserved for low-income people.
As money became available, often in loans from private individuals, houses were acquired. As houses were acquired new people got involved with the coop. Some of the acquired units were 825 W. 4th, 809 W. 4th, 342 Monroe(on an option) 304 Adams (on an option), and 864W. 4th. The Advisory Committee continued to work and change. New members joining were Chris Mulder from 864, Ben Elkus from 825, Boz Van Houten from 342 Monroe, Kristy Murray from 809 W. 4th and Charlotte Ruiz of 825 W. 4th. Committee members brought friends – Robin Chaffe got involved through her friendship with Ben Elkus, Dorothy Sloan through her friendship with Bruce Barney. Things continued to develop, but funds were needed.
It was again a scene at a local Post Office. This time it was 5:00 at the. Eugene downtown office and Sandy Pitler and Maureen Good were arguing with the clerk. “Just take it,” cried Maureen. It was another proposal to OND. This time it was round two of their grant cycle and one combined grant application was put in for the coop and the Red Barn Market Place. The application had to be postmarked June 6 and the Post Office had closed. The clerk sensing the intensity of feeling, relented and accepted the package and with it the hopes of the Whiteaker neighborhood.
The development team continued to work – John VanLandingham of Legal Aid and Mike Williams of a local law firm were indispensable. Their input on legal questions kept the march towards a successful EBHC on the right path. However, neighborhood staff needed technical assistance and there were no funds to have any. Janet Falk and Joel Rubenzahl of Community Economics, Inc. (Oakland, CA) were offering help, but funds had to be found. Then the word came. ..The NEDCO/WCC proposal to OND had been accepted. There had been over 1,000 applications and 78 were accepted. Whiteaker’s proposal was one of a total of 120 (Rounds 1 and 2) accepted out of over 1,500 submitted. The funds provided by OND would prove crucial to the development of the EBHC.
The OND funds helped provide the needed technical assistance. Janet Falk of Community Economics, Inc. (CEI) began taking a hard look at the properties being acquired. As the time passed the interest rate continued to rise and with each 1% rise the coop began looking further and further away. Yet the acquisition continued. The “Carson” property came up for sale around this time and NEDCO staff found a buyer in Cleveland. A Mr. Robert Evans would buy the 16 units located at 4th and Adams and agree to sell it to NEDCO for the coop when the financing could be arranged. This development brought new people to the committee -. Keary Doyle got involved as did others at the Carson property. Other committee members dropped out and new people moved in. The time was running out to actually get a loan and a project going.
Contact was made with the National Consumer Coop Bank and an application for a loan was submitted. This brought Debra Roseboom of the Coop bank’s Seattle office into the picture. She proved to be an enthusiastic supporter and a new source of technical assistance. The pieces to the puzzle were beginning to fall in place, but the interest rate continued to rise. What had been an expected 8% interest rate from the Oregon State Housing Division was now 12 or 13%.
It was a day in December, 1980 that another piece to the puzzle was added. Through the efforts of East Blair neighbors Jim Corcoran, Linda Seymour, Johan and Kay Mathiesen and others. The City of Eugene was “persuaded” to donate the abandoned house at 4th and Jackson known as the Wingard House to NEDCO for the coop. The City also agreed to provide a rehabilitation loan so that the house could be repaired for a low-income family.
The puzzle pieces in place, what was left was the financing–the hardest part. At lunch one day in March, l981 Janet, Debra, Frank, Sandy and Jim discussed the timeline for getting a proposal to the Coop bank for a loan. The bank was under heavy attack from the Reagan administration and no one knew how long it would last. Debra called her office to check in and was hit with the word – all proposals for loans had to be in to the Washington office by Friday at noon. That was in three days (this was Tuesday). Was it possible to produce an acceptable loan package in two days and get it Washington on time? Janet, Debra and Sandy went into action. Advisory Committee members such as Mara Steinberg, Dorothey Sloan and others also rose to the occasion. Everyone worked long and tiring hours. By Thursday at noon when the application (it weighed 25 lb..) was picked up by Emery Air Freight, the following had transpired: A full loan application was prepared including photographs and site drawings, the WCC Neighborhood Group met and authorized the use of an additional $55,000 of land banking money for the co-op 0 p, a meeting of tenants was held, and an unanimous vote was taken to submit the application.
The loan application arrived at 12 noon Friday (Washington, DC time) at the offices of the Coop Bank. At 4 P.M. Eugene time the phone rang and Debra Roseboom gave the NEDCO staff the news – the application was accepted (conditionally) and all requirements placed by the bank on the Coop would have to be completed in 90 days. Congratulations all around but much work was left and 90 days was not much time.
Negotiations began at once with the Housing Authority and Community Services Agency of Lane County (HACSA) which would have to agree to the idea of a Coop and provide the Section 8 subsidy so necessary to make it work. Four new “angels” entered the drama at this point, MA Leonard, HACSA Development Specialist, and Brian Shaffer, HACSA Rehab Specialist, were assigned to look at the NEDCO proposal for Section 8 subsidy. At the same time a community made up of Jim McCoy and some advisory members met and interviewed prospective general contractors. Bill Blowers and Rick Ralston, owners of Vaughn Construction, were chosen. This decision was to prove crucial as was the presence of Brian and MA as the time began to tick away and each condition of the bank prior to making the loan was met. It became apparent that the units which made up Phase I of the Coop weren’t those of the most active Advisory Committee members. Neighborhood volunteers such as Bruce Barney and Dorothy Ben Elkus and Ben Coonrod, Karen Stengle, Robin Chaffee fee, were not destined to be in the original 22 units. There was talk of two phases and the other units targeted would be done in Phase II, but that was to be a long way off. Yet these people continued to volunteer their time and talents.
Getting Ready for the Loan
March turned into April and April to May. Bylaws were adopted along with a committee structure. The construction documents were worked on often night and day by Brian of HACSA and Bill of Vaughn Construction. MA worked long and hard with Sandy (who had taken over the development chore from Frank Young) to insure the feasibility of the project. The ninety days were approaching and then another setback occurred. The first bids on construction came over $100,000 over the budget. Many of the design features worked in by the architects and tenants had to be eliminated. Eventually the price for the construction came closer and closer to the budget. The last $15,000, however, had to made up by tenants putting in sweat equity. Could it be done? Could the interior painting and the demolition be done by future Coop members? In many senses the success of the construction depended upon the volunteer work.
As the time approached for the loan closing (June 30, 1981), it became apparent that more financial help was needed. If NEDCO could get the City to loan $120,000 at no interest during the construction, then over $7,000 of interest could be saved and the project assured of financing. Sandy and Mara appeared before the West University Neighborhood group and asked them to agree to the City loaning NEDCO the necessary funds out of West University Block grant money. The $120,000 would be returned January 1, 1982. By a unanimous vote the neighbors in West University agreed and thereby expressed their support for the EBHC. ~ systems seemed ready to go.
Several tenants in what was to be Coop property did not qualify due to income level or family size. The EBHC lost the services of some very talented people, but later on the vacant units were to be filled by new Coop members like Kathryn Kegley, Paul and Kim Delibertis, Nancy Lewis, Letty Jelen, Toby Van Esso and Frank Dehne. The cast of characters was being assembled. But first the loan had to close.
On June 30, 1981, people began to gather at Safeco Title Co. on 11th Avenue. The media was there and the TV cameras ready to roll. Melva Edrington, President of the NEDCO board and original EBHC board signed the historic agreements as did Mara Steinberg and Jeff Lake as representatives of the Advisory Committee.
The loans had been approved – over $500,000 in a loan from the Coop Bank and $62,000 in loans from the City of Eugene. The EBHC was a reality and owned 22 units of housing.
A party was held at Sandy’s house and toasts were hoisted all around. The commitment of MA Leonard, Brian Shafer, David Edrington, Bill Blowers, John VanLandingham, Mike Williams, Janet Falk and Debra Roseboom had been the difference between success and failure. Everyone felt good and looked to the six months of construction that lay ahead as being an easy time compared with the previous 90 days. Yet there were a lot more curves in the road that led to the EBHC’s first annual meeting and the assumption of control by the original Members.
Rehab and Construction
During the following six months, Coop Members accomplished an incredible amount in a short time. The volunteer work crews had to be organized and Keary Doyle, Frank Dehne, Paul Delibertis and Jeff Lake took over the organizing. Porches were dismantled, chimneys taken down, walls removed, scrap hauled away to the dump The amount of sustained activity was a testament to the drive of several Coop volunteers. Mike Belanger and Ellen Kisslinger, Ed Mueller, Kim Delibertis and others were to show up consistently to do the work needed to be done. Individual Members worked on their own homes with help from the work crews. Adrienne Lauby and Kat Podgornoff watched as their house was dismantled and put back together and then went into action painting and wall papering their new apartment. The Townhouse ceilings and walls were painted with neighbors helping each other and many people learning to use an airless spray gun. The work continued and there seemed no end. Most everyone did some work. Ken Lyles helped build a brick stoop and dismantle the porches, Mike Landick laid tile in his apartment and helped remove trees, Toby VanEsso dressed in blue overalls and helped paint various people’s apartments;. Sally Mann began the project not knowing how to paint and ended up an expert painter. The contractors, led by Bill Blowers and Rick Ralston systematically worked 6n unit after unit – new roofs, new floors, new counter tops and cabinets, new refrigerators and stoves, new windows and more.
As the construction began and was to continue for 6 months, so also began the turning of the EBHC into an organization. CoHo Management was hired as the first management agent and Adrienne Lauby was hired as CoHo’s On-site Manager. Adrienne became the newest Member of the development team. A Member-ship Committee was organized with Mara Steinberg, Bernadette Almeida, Kristy Murray, Becky Lamothe and Mary Lalime putting in long hours developing a selection process and interviewing prospective Members. Section 8 management staff joined MA Leonard and Brian Shafer as HACSA staff working on the formulation of the EBHC. Future Coop Members had to meet with June Callen and Pat Friedl of HACSA to get certified for the Section 8 program. Once certified, Members dealt with Carol Olson, the EBHC Section 8 management representative.
A Management Committee consisting of Mary, Kim, and Pat Lane (a hopeful Phase II), began meeting weekly to help devise management systems and draft a complete set of House Rules. The House and Ground Committee (Jeff, Keary, Frank, Paul, Rhonda)continued to organize the volunteer work.
As the summer passed and fall arrived the work continued. People phased in and out according to their time commitments. Jeff Lake continued throughout the construction period to be an inspiration to many Coop folk. He worked nearly every weekend, helping organize work parties and helping his neighbors get their homes painted. Others also maintained their commitment, but Jeff continued to be a beacon of light throughout the project.
People continued to move in to fill vacancies. The Coop lost Becky Lamothe, a valuable worker and Member, when she moved to Massachusetts. Robert Lamotta, an original tenant, moved to California. However, the progress of the Coop group continued as did the organizing and sweat equity effort. A Board of Directors in training was elected – Jeff Lake, Nancy Lewis, Rhonda Schneider, Keary Doyle, Frank Dehne, Ed Mueller and Kathryn Kegley – the Advisory Committee was getting ready to change into the East Blair Housing Coop.
Fall passed and winter arrived, and the work continued. There was, however, one more hurdle to jump. It had become apparent that the project was running out of money due to unanticipated construction costs. There was one chance to get more funds – convince HUD to an increase in rents so that the Bank would loan the Coop the necessary funds to complete construction. Once again the effort of MA Leonard and Brian Shafer of HACSA played the crucial role in convincing HUD. It took a long while and there were many disappointments, but one day in January found Sandy Pitler, Jim McCoy, Bill Blowers sitting in HUD offices in Portland shaking hands with HUD officials. The increase had been granted. The construction could be finished on time.
The EBHC Begins
The time finally came. The rehab over, the organization in place, the last new Members – Pat Stewart, and Derrick Mitchell, Elaine Gallant, Millie White – selected, the day of the annual meeting set and the birthday party being planned. On February 23, 1982, the first annual meeting of the East Blair Housing Cooperative was held. The membership certificates were handed out, the NEDCO board resigned and the Coop Members (Members by every sense of the word) conducted their meeting and elected their first Board of Directors. only the future holds what will be for the East Blair Housing Cooperative, but the past holds all that it took to make an EBHC possible. Each person who played a role in the ever unfolding drama has a precious remembrance of the “Project that could not be done.”