Multiple tribal projects in Chiloquin underway to alleviate tribal housing needs, providing affordable and transitional housing

There is a housing crisis across the nation and in Klamath County – and Chiloquin is no exception. To address the problem locally, the Klamath Tribes Housing and Planning Departments have launched several projects to assist tribal members in finding permanent or transitional housing in Chiloquin. The two men overseeing the projects are Klamath Tribes’ Housing Director Kenneth Ruthardt and Planning Director Jared Hall.

To stimulate the economy during Covid, the CARES Act was passed by Congress and signed by then-President Donald Trump in 2020. Building upon the CARES Act was the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. The Klamath Tribes is a huge beneficiary of this stimulus package. With $350 billion allocated across various levels of government, $20 billion was earmarked for tribes alone – $1 billion of which was to be evenly distributed by approximately 570 eligible tribes – a substantial sum.

“So, we really went through that ARPA legislation to figure out what could we do as far as projects, and the one thing that became apparent to me in the new ARPA legislation is they defined construction projects – capital, they call them capital projects,” said Hall. “It really laid out the rules and regulations of that. And then they also really exemplified the fact that they want tribes to focus on housing, the housing crisis, and getting new housing stock.”

A pre-construction meeting was held on Dec. 4 to lay out the initial course of construction for a triplex home and a fourplex in Chiloquin. The first step is to clear the land of old structures, trees, and brush. A construction crew started this work in late December. The Klamath Tribes Road Maintenance crew also started site demolition on the Juda Jim lot in December, with the demolition of the old building structure that was not being occupied. This provided tribal employees with intense heavy-equipment training hours and helped demonstrate tribal self-sufficiency by performing work on a tribal project.

The triplex, providing three homes for tribal elders, will be downtown between Chocktoot and Yahooskin Streets, while the fourplex, providing another four families with homes, will be situated on Juda Jim Street. The affordable housing will be for rent by low-income families. The properties are expected to be completed by fall 2024.

“It’s light site work: clearing and grubbing,” said Hall, referring to the triplex construction commencing in mid-December. “They’re going to prep the access roads, do some pre-stormwater work. It’s going to be a 0.26-acre lot adjacent to the city’s buildings on Chocktoot Street.”

Construction for the fourplex will break ground later this winter. The construction contract for this project is still in process. The anticipated completion date for both projects is Dec. 30, 2024.

In addition to the eight existing tribal homes at a property called “55 Acres,” next to the goos oLgi gowa community center, Ruthardt anticipates completing an additional 16 rental homes for low-income families.

The ARPA grant will help fund 23 units at “55 Acres,” in addition to Hall’s multiplex units in downtown Chiloquin.

Ruthardt’s job extends beyond directing the development of proposed units. Renovations on existing properties occupied by tribal members also factor into his work and finding homes for tribal members. Renovations include installing 56 new woodstoves, repairing water and fire damages, and demolishing and rebuilding one home.

“Renovations, dropping the rental list down,” said Ruthardt, pointing to a whiteboard of designated projects in the pipeline. “We have ongoing developments. At Melita’s, there are the 14 hotel rooms, 13 tiny homes, probably four workplace homes, and the storage unit, which is phase three – that’s going to be determined.”

The Klamath Tribes’ rental assistance program, similar to Section 8 and providing vouchers to landlords, had a waitlist of 141 people as of March 2023. That number was down to 63 at the end of November.

The building formerly housing a restaurant called Melita’s on Highway 97 is scheduled to be renovated. The former motel is located immediately behind the restaurant. This project is funded through an Oregon Community Foundation grant.

“Melita’s project should be imminent. It’s approved,” said Ruthardt. “So, we’re going to refurbish or renovate the 14 rooms, and they’re going to have kitchenettes in them for the guests. And hopefully, we’ll start occupancy, probably in May. But primarily, the guests are going to be elders.”

The former Melita’s restaurant building will consist of three offices, a de-escalation room, and a single kitchen equipped with a refrigerator in case a guest wishes to have family over and cook. The space will also have a community room. On one side of the building will be the restaurant, and it will retain its former name. There can be a restaurant business so long as all the proceeds go to helping the emergency housing crisis.

“The Melita’s project is meant for people struggling to find housing, lost a job, or you’re an elder who, maybe something just happened, or you move back to this area,” Ruthardt said, “and you’re having trouble finding housing, you can get in there. And then there’s the wraparound services to help them get back on their feet. And then the goal is to get them into permanent housing.”

Another project to help alleviate Chiloquin’s housing crisis is the construction of 13 tiny homes on a former RV lot located next to Melita’s. Where the funding for this project will come from is still undetermined as of this writing. The 13 tiny homes, the multiplexes downtown, along with the 16 homes to be built at the “55 Acres” property will accommodate 36 people from the waitlist for the low-rent program. When renovations are completed, the current waitlist, comprising 148, is expected to drop.

“My goal is to take it down to zero,” said Ruthardt. “That’s what we’re shooting for. It’s not just me. I have a team behind me; we’re building that and working to do it. People would like to move back to Chiloquin; I’m seeing more elders would like to move back here, but there’s no housing. It’s a huge problem. So, finding housing for them to live and work, that’s going to be a huge challenge, but we’re determined.”