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Elders and Foster Families Find Common Ground at Bridge Meadows

Photograph of several two-story buildings enclosing a landscaped courtyard that includes a lawn area, trees, a wooden walkway, and a paved area with several benches.
Bridge Meadows integrates family and elder housing into a cohesive, connected community. Image courtesy of Bridge Meadows.
The Bridge Meadows community in Portland, Oregon provides affordable housing and a support network for low-income elders and families in the process of adopting foster children. Inspired by similar developments around the country, the intergenerational development by the Bridge Meadows nonprofit is the first of its kind in Oregon.1 Bridge Meadows, an infill development, replaces a former elementary school campus. The development opened in June 2011 with financial support from the city, the state tax credit allocating agency, and several philanthropies.

Housing for Elders and Foster Families

In 2007, three years after its founding, the Bridge Meadows nonprofit partnered with Carleton Hart Architecture, Walsh Construction, and Guardian Real Estate Services to begin development. The Bridge Meadows community was established in 2011 with 36 units of affordable housing. Nine units are reserved for adoptive families. Arranged in two-story duplexes and single-family homes, the family units are more than 1,700 square feet and have 4 bedrooms. Each family in this portion of Bridge Meadows must adopt or become the legal guardians of at least three children from the foster care system within five years of moving into the development. Although the family units have no income restrictions, the rent is capped at 26.5 percent of the household’s gross income to allow families to pay for supportive services and other expenses that arise in caring for their adopted children.

The remaining 27 units are set aside for elders. These units range from 618 to 822 square feet and include both 1- and 2-bedroom apartments arranged in 1- and 2-story triplexes. Four of the units meet the accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and an additional unit is designed for the hearing impaired. The elders’ units are affordable to households with a range of incomes: up to 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), 50 percent of AMI, and 60 percent of AMI. The head of household for all of the elders’ units must be age 55 or older.2 Elders must be capable of independent living; when elders can no longer live independently in the complex, Bridge Meadows helps them transition to an assisted living facility.

To create an intergenerational support network, elders must sign a lease addendum agreeing to volunteer with children living in the development for at least 100 hours per quarter. Elders may devote their volunteer time to arts and crafts, outdoor recreation, cooking, babysitting, or other activities. Before volunteering, elders undergo specialized training through the Oregon Department of Human Services, and Bridge Meadows staff ensure that elders understand and meet the needs of adoptive children and families.3 The concept behind Bridge Meadows is that the community and social connection can be a form of intervention for the adoptive children and families, providing them with a nurturing environment. Staff seek to encourage these connections among residents rather than manage them.4 To help create connections, Bridge Meadows features meeting and community spaces where residents can gather for formal meetings and to socialize informally — a computer room, library, landscaped courtyard, and community garden.5

Bridge Meadows also includes several green features, including bioswales for rainwater, solar hot water panels on some of the units, and radiant heat systems in the seniors’ units.6 All of the units feature ENERGY STAR® appliances and incorporate finishes containing low levels of volatile organic compounds. The development also provides bicycle parking to offer residents an alternative to automobiles.7

Community Support

Photograph of portions of the façades of two 2-story, wood-sided residential buildings facing the courtyard. A lawn and a paved open area with four benches are in the foreground.
Bridge Meadows community spaces allow residents to meet informally. Image courtesy of Bridge Meadows.
The Bridge Meadows nonprofit included neighbors in the development process to ensure that the community would support the project. Four neighbors were invited to participate in the design, and Schubert notes that their “voices and handprints are all over the community.” As an indication of broad neighborhood acceptance, the neighborhood association now holds meetings in the development.8

Development costs for both the elder and the family portions, which were separately financed with both public and private funds, totaled approximately $11.4 million. The elders’ portion of the development, which cost approximately $9 million, was financed with equity from the sale of low-income housing tax credits provided by the National Equity Fund’s Portland office, as well as funding from the federal Tax Credit Assistance Program and Oregon’s Low Income Weatherization Assistance program and Housing Development Grant Program. More than 24 foundations provided financing for the family portion of the development, which cost roughly $2.4 million. Both phases received funding from the city’s development commission and housing bureau; the elder portion received a cash-flow-dependent loan and the family portion was provided with an equity gap loan that does not need to be repaid unless the project’s mission changes.9 The city leased the two-acre parcel on which Bridge Meadows is located to the nonprofit for one dollar per year. The value of this land lease is estimated to be approximately $670,000. In addition, the city waived $216,000 in system development charges.10

A Community of Support

Even though Bridge Meadows’ units are restricted to very specific populations, they leased quickly. According to Derenda Schubert, executive director of the Bridge Meadows nonprofit, the elders’ units were fully leased within six months of the project’s opening and the families’ units were fully leased and occupied within nine months. Although Bridge Meadows has experienced turnover because the collaborative community atmosphere and frequent communication among residents made some residents uneasy, Schubert notes that staff have witnessed strong bonds among the community members that remain, as well as emotional healing in the adopted children. Elders often volunteer with children for more than the required number of hours, and families often reciprocate by helping elders, such as by driving them to doctors’ appointments. Ties within families have also been strengthened; Schubert notes that 67 percent of the children in Bridge Meadows are now adopted or in legal guardianship.

Building on the community’s success, the Bridge Meadows nonprofit is working on several similar projects. Plans are being prepared for a dormitory-style facility near Bridge Meadows for youth who have aged out of foster care. Bridge Meadows nonprofit’s board of directors is also considering a similar intergenerational community on the western side of Portland. In addition, the Bridge Meadows nonprofit is serving as a consultant for intergenerational housing projects elsewhere in the United States.11