Josh Partee Architectural Photographer

An innovative development is providing needed affordable housing for Native Americans in Portland, Ore.

Nesika Illahee, which translates to “our place” in the Chinook language, brings 59 affordable apartments to the city’s Cully neighborhood.

This is the first project aimed at Native Americans built by Community Development Partners (CDP), which has two more in the pipeline in Portland, says CEO Eric Paine.

CDP co-developed Nesika Illahee with the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA). Other partners include the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Native American Rehabilitation Association (NARA).

Developed by Community Development Partners and the Native American Youth and Family Center, the 59-unit Nesika Illahee provides needed housing to Native Americans in Portland, Ore.
Josh Partee Architectural Photographer. Developed by Community Development Partners and the Native American Youth and Family Center, the 59-unit Nesika Illahee provides needed housing to Native Americans in Portland, Ore.

The $17.4 million project’s recent opening comes at a time when Native Americans are the most disproportionately homeless group in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. American Indian and Alaska Native individuals made up 11.6% of the area’s homeless population despite making up only 2.5% of the county’s population in 2019.

The developers believe Nesika Illahee is the first housing complex to receive a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Indian Housing Block Grant (IHBG) to build housing and establish a preference for Native families in an urban, off-reservation setting. Traditionally, the funds have been used by tribal housing authorities to build or preserve housing on Native reservations.

The funding was critical because it allows the team to reserve 20 apartments for low-income Native Americans, according to Paine. However, the entire property has been marketed and leased up with an emphasis on Native individuals and families.

HUD allocates the IHBG funds to different tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, which then provided $1.7 million to help finance Nesika Illahee.

The residents of the IHBG apartments pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. All units are restricted to households earning no more than 60% of the area median income, but many of the families who will be living at the new development earn significantly less, Paine says.

In addition to IHBG, Nesika Illahee is financed with $6 million in 4% low-income housing tax credit equity from Aegon Real Assets US. The credits were allocated by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS), which provided critical gap funding including Local Innovation and Fast Track, Weatherization, Mental Health, and General Housing Account Program funds. Citi Community Capital provided a $3.8 million permanent loan. In addition, Home Forward, the area housing authority, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services are providing additional annual rental subsidy.

The three-story building features a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

Storytelling is a central concept in the Native culture and was incorporated into the building designed by Carleton Hart Architecture. There are carved wood columns, reclaimed timber from a tree that was taken down on-site, painted murals, and Native artwork throughout the development. The community spaces, including a plaza, are designed to encourage storytelling by the community. On-site amenities include a community garden, resident services, and a community room with a kitchen.

NARA is providing culturally relevant services and programs to residents, who also have access to free health and dental care, Paine says.