Oroville Housing Authority breaks ground for new 16-unit Orchard Apartments

The new housing is being built at the site of OHA’s first project nearly three decades ago

Okanogan County Commissioner Jon Neal, Oroville Mayor Ed Naillon, OHA Executive Director Ashley Range and OHA Commissioners Gary DeVon, Susan Speiker and Ben Peterson turn the first shovels of dirt at the future site of the Oroville Orchard Apartments. <em>Submitte photo</em>

Okanogan County Commissioner Jon Neal, Oroville Mayor Ed Naillon, OHA Executive Director Ashley Range and OHA Commissioners Gary DeVon, Susan Speiker and Ben Peterson turn the first shovels of dirt at the future site of the Oroville Orchard Apartments. Submitte photo

OROVILLE – The Oroville Housing Authority broke ground for the Oroville Orchard Apartments, 16 units of low-income housing that despite some early setbacks will soon be a much-needed reality in a town that is seemingly always short of affordable housing.

In addition to OHA staff and board members, the celebration was joined by Oroville Mayor Ed Naillon and Okanogan County Commissioner Jon Neal, as well as other dignitaries and those just curious about the project.

Using ceremonial “golden shovels,” the first shovels full of dirt were tossed into the air by housing authority commissioners Gary DeVon, Susan Speiker and Ben Peterson, along with OHA Executive Director Ashley Range and Mayor Naillon and Commissioner Neal. Others joined in to get their photos taken for the auspicious occasion, including project advisors from the Office of Rural and Farmworker Housing (ORFH), Executive Director Martin Miller and Collin Thompson. ORFH does development consulting, technical assistance, community lending and policy and advocacy.

The new housing is being constructed at the site of the housing authority’s first project, the Harvest Shelter, where several trailers were used seasonally to house farm workers during harvest time, as well as serving as a winter emergency camp for the homeless. After new, modern, permanent seasonal housing was developed nearby by the OHA, the aging trailers were sold to fruit growers to make way for the low-income apartments that will be constructed.

Following the ceremonial groundbreaking, those present were invited to join in some refreshments at one of the empty Harvest Park units and to say a few words about the project.

“Thank you, everybody, for taking the time to be here and celebrate with us today, it means the world to us,” said OHA Executive Director Range. “This isn’t just an accomplishment for the Oroville Housing Authority, this is a huge milestone for Oroville.”

She continued, “Secondly, I would like to thank my amazing staff… we are small but mighty. It blows my mind when I stop and think about it. Thank you both, Heather and Victor, as well as Leslie and Josh, who are our other employees who couldn’t be here unfortunately. We just hope to continue and expand, especially with these kinds of projects.”

She thanked her “wonderful board of directors,” DeVon, Speiker and Peterson, as well as Peggy Shaw and Linda Sleater, who couldn’t attend.

“You guys have been so supportive, thank you. It’s been a wild three years,” said Range, who added it would soon be her third anniversary with the OHA.

She thanked Miller and Thompson from ORFH, as well as her predecessors at OHA, former Executive Directors Susan Edick and Cheryl Lewis. Lastly, she thanked her husband, Aaron.

“Ashley is really a go-getter and I’ve been to one town after the next, it would really have been easy to throw in the towel. Ashley really stuck with it, and we overcame the challenges… one challenge after another. It’s wonderful to be a part of it,” said Thompson, agreeing with Range that it takes a village and the full community’s support.

DeVon, the president of the OHA board, was asked to speak next.

“When I came on the board they were just finishing this project,” said DeVon, referring to the Harvest Park. “This will be my first beginning-to-end project since I’ve been on the board.”

He continued that he hoped it gets done soon as ever since he had been working for the local newspaper, lack of housing to rent had been an issue. He recalled how people seeking a place to live would come in before the paper was printed just to see if there were rental ads in the classifieds that they could get an early look at.

“It is hard to find a place to live, especially a place to rent,” he said. “It is a good project, goodbye trailers, hello apartments.”

Mayor Naillon said, “I’d just like to thank everybody for letting me be a part of recognizing this groundbreaking for the Orchard Apartments. When we considered it the first time I was still on the council and we were really impressed with the project and how well thought out the development was and we still are.”

He went on to talk about how it would help to fulfill the town’s need for affordable housing.

“When the housing authority was formed in 1991 the city recognized the need for affordable housing, as well as farmworker housing in the City of Oroville. It’s been a real pleasure to watch this organization grow and evolve the way it has over the years. I was involved with this when it was a dream and look at us standing here in this room talking about the next big thing,” said the mayor.

He said that he sees the need for seasonal farm worker housing and low-income housing are starting to blend because many farm workers are now becoming “year-round, full-time citizens of our community.”

“That’s why I like the idea of this development… this development is going to be safe, it’s going to be accessible, it’s going to be affordable and it’s going to be a wonderful place for our families to grow and become a part of the community. Good job to everybody that was involved in this project. And I, wish the project all the best as well as all of the families that will live there.”

The new apartments will be constructed on Orchard Road, just off Sawtells Road. It is estimated that rent for the two-bedroom units will be $1,008 a month and $650 for the one-bedroom units.

The new apartments will also be able to take advantage of the new sewer line connection that was brought in through a state Department of Ecology grant last year to replace a septic system.