Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Fernando Duran, left, joins others in touring a room like the one he'll occupy soon.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Fernando Duran, left, joins others in touring a room like the one he'll occupy soon.
Fernando Duran, 47, is movin' on up.

A member of St. André Bessette Parish in downtown Portland, Duran will leave an older apartment and begin living on the seventh floor of Macdonald West. The new building in Old Town was designed to make life downtown possible for the working poor.

Residents of Macdonald West can be earning no more than 60 percent of area median income. Built with both public and private money, the building has 42 low-rent studios. Tenants are moving in this month. They'll have easy access to the MAX and social services. Catholics like Duran are just a few blocks from St. André Church.

Leslie Hobaugh, who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, had become part of the Macdonald Center community. But he was forced to move miles away because Old Town rents have increased. When Macdonald West was just a drawing on paper, Hobaugh put a sticky note on the little map where he wanted to live. A Community Newspapers worker, he now occupies the room of his dreams. Hobaugh likes the newness and freshness, he says, plus the big kitchen, the dishwasher, and drawers in the bathroom. The best part, he says, is low rent for a good room.

The ground floor will house the expanded service hub for the Macdonald Center, which has long helped homeless, mentally ill and elderly residents of Old Town manage life, including money and medication. Next door, the original Macdonald Center provides assisted living apartments for recipients so poor they qualify for Medicaid.  

Holy Cross Father Richard Berg founded the Macdonald Center, calling it "a place of healing in the heart of the city." At the grand opening of Macdonald West earlier this month, the priest recalled his first week on the job in 1989 as pastor of St. André Bessette Parish. He encountered a bloodied man on the street and offered to make a hospital run. The bearded, injured man instead asked for a prayer and got on his knees. After Father Berg blessed him, the man said, "Pastor, that was a damn good prayer. Now you get down on your knees." Father Berg complied and the man prayed over him: "God, this guy is new down here and doesn't know much about what is going on. Help him bring healing." The man then walked away.

That prayer guided the ministry of the church and the Macdonald Center, Father Berg explained. Macdonald West, which will provide a home for many people who have slipped through social service cracks, continues the work.

"It's a dream come true," the priest said.

Pat Janik, executive director of the Macdonald Center, thanked her board of directors for bravely purchasing the building amid an economic collapse.

Jeffrey Yandle, board president, said the act took faith, but also "people who have a real desire to bring hope to the heart of Portland."

About 70 percent of the backing for Macdonald West came from Oregon Housing and Community Services, via tax credits. U.S. Bank purchased the credits, making the project possible.  

"This development is a win-win for our community," said Jacob Fox, assistant housing director for the City of Portland. "What you do do here makes Portland a beautiful place to be."

LRS Architects and Howard S. Wright Construction led the design and construction teams. The capital campaign, conducted during a recession, has raised $12 million for construction costs and programs. Major contributors to date include Meyer Memorial Trust, HEDCO Foundation, Ann and Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, The Collins Foundation and a bequest from Maybelle Clark Macdonald.

The apartments were built on the site of the 106-year-old West Hotel and famed concert venue, the Satyricon. It was a delicate job to shoehorn a seven-story building between two others.

Macdonald Center mobilizes hundreds of volunteers who visit rooms, offer medical advice, organize picnics and provide birthday parties.

"I think the Macdonald Center is wonderful," says Judy Murphy, a volunteer from St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton. "They go a step above for people."