Housing agency gets extra dollars for rental assistance

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: August 06. 2007 5:00AM PST

Housing Works, the Redmond-based nonprofit that helps families obtain affordable housing, has unexpectedly received an extra $427,000 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The 8 percent increase in Housing Works’ annual allocation from HUD allowed the organization to issue housing vouchers to all 350 people who applied for one last month, said Keith Wooden, Housing Works’ director of housing.

The federal government caps the number of Section 8 vouchers — rental assistance for low-income families — that Housing Works can give out at 1,026 per year, Wooden said. But before the extra allocation, the organization’s funding would have allowed it to provide only about 940 vouchers this year.

“We were at the level where we were spending as much as our contract allowed and as people dropped out (of the program) we were able to issue more. And so when they gave us this extra money, we’re just putting it on the street where it’s supposed to go,” Wooden said. “With this extra money, we can actually fund all of them, so we’re playing a little catch-up and looking forward — hopefully they’ll adjust it like this again, maybe in January of next year.”

The vouchers are awarded through a lottery system and average about $475 a month per family. Last year, Housing Works was not able to issue any new Section 8 vouchers between May and December because of a lack of funding, Wooden said. He added that it is normal for about 350 people to enter the lottery for vouchers every time the organization opens up the list.

Wooden said he found out about the extra funding in June. It was a surprise because Housing and Urban Development’s budget runs on a calendar year, and in January it cut the amount of money going to Housing Works by 3 percent.

“They gave it to us in July, which means that we have until the end of the year to spend it, so that’s what we’re doing right now,” Wooden said. “For the rest of the year it will definitely help out the people who need it. The big question mark is every year they change it, so who knows what will happen in January of next year.”

Wooden said that HUD originally allocated about $5.1 million to Housing Works for this year. He added that he wasn’t given any explanation for the recent bump in funding.

Martha Dilts, deputy regional director for HUD in Seattle, wrote in an e-mail that the U.S. Congress recently “changed the funding formula” for Section 8 housing vouchers, which allowed HUD to increase funds for organizations like Housing Works. All of the public housing authorities in Oregon received similar increases, Dilts said.

Tim Cox, Housing Works’ chief financial officer, said the organization’s total annual budget is about $8 million.

“Those housing assistance payments make up about $5 (million) of that — it’s a big portion of our budget that just flows right through,” Cox said.

In addition to handing out the vouchers to residents throughout Central Oregon, Housing Works has spearheaded about a dozen affordable housing developments in its 30-year history. For this year, it is working on one project in northeast Bend and one in Madras. The apartments are usually rented to families who earn 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, Wooden said.

“Those are affordable properties and unlike Section 8 where (the amount of rent covered is) based off your income, everybody in a three-bedroom pays the same amount,” Wooden said. “Section 8 is for the lowest segment of income — this is more for the middle section of the work force.”

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Principal’s online profile pulled for religious content

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: August 04. 2007 5:00AM PST

A visitor to Powell Butte Elementary School’s official Web site used to see a profile of Principal D.C. Lundy under the link titled “Administration.”

“He has been teaching and inspiring youth and staff alike at Powell Butte since 1979,” the text read. “When asked what he likes best about his job, he answered, ‘It allows me to do what God wants me to do in public — serve. …’ In his spare time, Mr. Lundy loves playing tennis, playing and writing music, studying Creation research and studying the Bible.”

On Thursday, the Crook County School District removed the biography. Superintendent Steve Swisher said he had never looked at the profile before this week and, after reviewing it, decided that it could be “misleading.”

“I’m not sure it’s inappropriate for a person to describe their own beliefs and who they are, but I did think that it was confusing because a person might be led to believe that’s our school curriculum, which it’s not,” Swisher said. “I thought we should pull it until we really review it.”

Lundy did not return repeated calls for comment made over several days.

The incident has raised questions for school officials about the gray areas of the church-state separation. In recent years, discussing creationism in public schools has been a hot topic of debate across the country and in Central Oregon. In March, a part-time teacher at Sisters High School was fired for presenting materials in biology class that deviated from the district’s curriculum on evolution and included information on the Bible and creationism, according to earlier Bulletin reports.

Gene Evans, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Education, said administrators and teachers have to be careful when bringing their personal religious beliefs into the school setting.

“The fine line that schools have to walk is when does talking about religion become promoting religion, and so that’s what we’re talking about here, and that’s a decision that the local communities have to make,” Evans said. “It sounds like he said these are his personal activities away from school. That’s the kind of thing, sure, that’s a description of the person, but you have to be sure that you don’t then become promoting or advocating for a religious belief on school grounds or school time, and that’s what we’re watching out for.”

Swisher said the district is in the process of revamping its Web sites, which were created more than 10 years ago. As part of that process, the information that appears about principals at the different schools in the system will be standardized.

“Some basic information about the principals (should be included),” he said. “…degrees they have and experience they have and perhaps a little bit of educational philosophy, I think that’s all very appropriate. I don’t know how appropriate who my favorite football player is, or how I like to go hunting, or what my own personal religious beliefs are — I’m not sure we should personalize it to that degree.”

Swisher said he asked Lundy about the profile, and Lundy said he wrote it eight or nine years ago, when he was a teacher at Powell Butte Elementary. Lundy told Swisher he was not aware it had been moved into the administration section of the Web site.

But the first line of the biography read, “D.C. Lundy is Powell Butte’s principal,” indicating that it was revised at some point. Swisher said he has asked the district’s technology department about Powell Butte’s Web site, and no one is sure when, why or by whom Lundy’s bio was posted.

“That was probably on the Powell Butte Elementary Web site then 10 years ago as a bio of one of the teachers, then at some point when that same teacher became the principal then probably one of the tech guys most likely — I don’t even know who — was making corrections and basically just slid it under the administration (section),” he said. “And right now as I ask questions, no one here actually knows how that occurred.”

Crook County School Board Chairman Jeff Landaker said he has asked Swisher to look into who created the Web site.

“I will know how it got posted — I’ve requested that information to be given to me at the next school board meeting (on Aug. 13),” Landaker said. “I want to make sure that is something that it doesn’t fall through the cracks or loopholes or anything else in the future.”

Landaker said he thought it was correct for the school district to remove the site as soon as officials became aware of it.

“I feel that’s something that D.C. Lundy was doing on a personal basis — it’s not a reflection of any curriculum that the school district has really adopted,” he said. “If I was an outsider and I pulled this up, I can see where it could cause some controversy. It’s probably not an appropriate thing to have posted on any district Web site.”

Evans said the state Department of Education has not heard any concerns about the biography.

“We get involved if there’s a complaint and there hasn’t been a complaint about Powell Butte or about the Web site,” he said. “We don’t go out and surf the Web and look at people’s bios and do that, but we certainly follow up if somebody makes a complaint and says, ‘I was offended or I felt uncomfortable sending my child to Powell Butte because of the principal’s statements.’”

According to state law, if the Department of Education receives a complaint “that on its face is colorable that a school district or public charter school sponsors, financially supports or is actively involved with religious activity,” the superintendent’s office will start a preliminary investigation of the facts in the case. If the investigation finds a “substantial basis” to believe there is a legitimate concern, the Department of Education will immediately withhold all state school funds due to the school, and schedule a hearing to further investigate the complaint.

Swisher said the school district does not have policies specifically addressing principals and teachers discussing their religious beliefs “outside of the classroom.”

“We do have policies about teaching controversial topics,” he said. “The whole piece up there about creationism and stuff, of course, that’s not in our science curriculum — we follow the state laws in that particular area. … We do have not as a policy, but just a practice, clarity and making sure that we’re not confusing people.”

Swisher added that he has not heard from any parents about the site.

“In this case I hadn’t had any complaints and, frankly, wasn’t aware of it,” he said. “I’m not sure how many people have even seen it. As far as I know, it’s not one of the hot topics in town.”

Rebecca Walker, who has a sixth-grader at Powell Butte Elementary School and two older children in the Crook County school system, described Lundy as an “upstanding, aboveboard, do-things-right guy.”

“He does not hide the fact that he is affiliated with the church, yet he doesn’t use that as being principal of the school,” Walker said. “I think he’s aware that he has to be very careful because of state regulations that mix the school with the church — he doesn’t do that at all.”

Walker said she had not ever seen Lundy’s profile, but she doesn’t think it was improper for the principal to include information about his religious beliefs.

“It’s kind of a tough row to hoe because it is a part of him, yet it doesn’t overtake his role as being principal,” she said. “I think that Mr. Lundy has found (that line) very well.”

Lundy’s biography on the school’s Web site was not unique only in its content. Only one other Crook County principal, Jim Golden, of Crook County High School, has posted personal information about himself on the school site. Golden’s profile mainly features information about his educational and professional background, but also mentions his wife and two sons and concludes, “We love outdoor activities including skiing, rafting, fishing and mountaineering.”

All of the Web sites for Crook County’s schools are accessed through the main district Web site, http://www.crookcounty.k12.or.us. Swisher said there has not been general oversight of the individual school sites since they were created, but some staffers in the information technology department are now working on unifying the sites.

Some of the Web sites in the Bend-La Pine Schools include a “message from the principal” describing the individual schools. High Desert Middle School Principal Gary DeFrang is the only one who has a personal statement, which includes information about his professional experience. Swisher said that reworking the Crook County School District’s Web site to have a more consistent format will help avoid confusing situations in the future.

“It will give us the ability then to go in and revise the content easily without having a lot of technical skill, without having Web design skill and that kind of stuff,” he said. “Right now the Web site is a conglomeration, I guess I would call it, of probably more than a dozen years of bits and pieces.”

Tricky Prineville intersection may be in line for help from resort; plan worries ODOT

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: August 03. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE — Drivers tired of the long waits at the intersection of Third and Main streets in downtown Prineville could be in for a measure of relief.

A planned resort development near Meadow Lakes Golf Course could involve the addition of left-turn arrows in the north-south direction on Main Street, one of the main routes through the city.

The Prineville Planning Commission in June approved RiverGate Resort, which is expected to include 291 condo and hotel room units, on the condition that the developers either install the left-turn lights or pay $30,000 to the city and about $9,000 to the Oregon Department of Transportation. But ODOT appealed the decision, saying it had not had time to evaluate the proposal and was concerned the wiring at the intersection would not support the weight of the extra lights.

Third Street is also U.S. Highway 26, and ODOT has jurisdiction over the intersection.

Josh Smith, a senior planner with the city of Prineville, said the work will include removing and reconfiguring the lights to reduce the weight on the span wire. An engineer for RiverGate Resort has concluded that the wire can support the extra weight, but ODOT has not yet agreed with that analysis, Smith said.

“We said, ‘It either works or it doesn’t, so we’ll give an option — if it doesn’t work, they’ll just give us the cash,’” Smith said. “(ODOT) wanted to have all the information on the table before we approved the application. That’s understandable, but the city was under the impression that it’s either going to work or it’s not and you can’t make that intersection any bigger — the museum is in the way, historic buildings are in the way.”

According to a letter from ODOT to the city community development department in June, ODOT is worried about the effects of future growth in Prineville on the transportation system.

“ODOT is concerned about the projected operational deficiency of U.S. 26 at Main Street — irrespective of the proposed development,” wrote ODOT Senior Planner Devin Hearing. “Serious discussions need to take place to identify a funding mechanism that will ensure the transportation system is capable of supporting the level of growth anticipated in the city.”

Attempts to reach ODOT officials were unsuccessful.

RiverGate Resort was OKed after the approval of Angler’s Canyon, another development that could add 877 homes south of the Crook County Fairgrounds. Because the Planning Commission approved Angler’s Canyon first, Smith said, the projected car trips for RiverGate Resort would have pushed the intersection at Third and Main over capacity. Adding the left-turn lights is a way for the developer to “mitigate” for those impacts.

The congestion at the Third and Main intersection affects traffic throughout the downtown Prineville corridor, Smith said. The corner already has left arrows in the east-west direction, but Smith said cars trying to turn left from Main Street onto Third often create problems.

“It is the main intersection in town,” he said. “Everyone stops at Third and Main, and one of the biggest problems is that turn lane — one car juts out and waits until all the traffic gets through and then goes through.”

Gordon Gillespie is a city councilor and the director of the Bowman Museum, which occupies a nearly 100-year-old building on the southeast corner of Third and Main streets. Gillespie said he sees traffic backed up at the intersection “on almost a constant basis.”

“I’ve experienced where I’ve been trying to get out of town and I want to turn left at that light, and I’ve sat there for three or four lights,” he said. “I think an arrow is going to help a lot.”

The city is looking at several options to relieve traffic on Third Street in the long term. Preliminary work has started on what planners call the “Second Street egress,” which would provide an alternative east-west route from the intersection of state Highway 126 and U.S. Highway 26 through downtown, Smith said. Another idea is to create a “couplet” system, with two parallel one-way streets, like in downtown Redmond.

“(Third and Main) is still going to be a clogged intersection. What’s really needed is a bypass which Second Street should provide,” Smith said. “What ODOT would really prefer us to do now is the couplet system.”

At its last regular meeting, the Prineville City Council set a date of Aug. 14 to hear ODOT’s appeal of RiverGate’s approval. But Smith said both sides have been in communication and are hoping to avoid the appeal.

“They need to figure out basically will the span wire hold all four lights — if it does, they’re happy,” he said. “The city and ODOT are still hoping for a compromise that keeps it from going to an appeal.”