A small entourage poured out of the vehicle and strolled up a steep driveway into the apartment.
It was a chance for Linda Papp, wife of U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, Jr., to take a look at Astoria’s unique housing configuration – regarded by many as some of the best housing the service has to offer.
She was joined by Vice Adm. John P. Currier and his wife Mary Jane Currier, Linda Jones, wife of the new Sector Columbia River Commander Capt. Bruce Jones, and wives of several officers living in the area with their families. Melissa Fredrickson, the Coast Guard’s housing programs division chief, and other local and regional housing specialists also joined the tour.
Standing in front of a garage on the Whitebush Way cul de sac, Linda Papp weighed in on the development of 102 units built in 1994 and 1995. Despite a bit of flaking paint on the house’s trim, her impression was a good one.
“I’m impressed. I didn’t know what to expect – I’ve never been to Oregon,” she said.
The group toured two units, getting a sense of the look and feel of the homes the Coast Guard provides for enlisted personnel and junior officers. Housing is one of the initiatives Linda Papp is taking on this year, trying to find ways to make everyday life better for Coast Guard families, she explained.
The admirals and their wives are in town for the retirement ceremony of Rear Adm. Gary Blore, who was the commander of the Coast Guard’s Thirteenth District in Seattle until Tuesday. Today’s ceremony will also shift the Ancient Albatross honor – the Coast Guard’s longest serving pilot – from Blore to Vice Adm. John Currier, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for mission support. Officiating the ceremony will be the Coast Guard’s top officer, Adm. Papp.
This year has been declared the Year of the Coast Guard Family by Papp, following direction from President Obama, in an effort to improve quality of life for those serving and their families. In addition to housing, they’re looking at child care, their ombudsman program, health care and their chaplain services.
Vice Adm. Currier was the commanding officer when the development was built, and paused on Whitebush Way to explain a bit about the area’s seasonal housing situation over the years for the visitors.
“Astoria has traditionally been a tough market,” he said.
“We were under significant financial restraints due to the economy,” Currier continued. When the development was built, a fourth phase – including 22 more units, a community center and a maintenance building – was planned but never completed.
Finding money to expand the housing continues to be a challenge. A $27 million housing expansion is planned for Astoria, including two new housing options for Coast Guard personnel and their families in the coming years: 52 units would be added to the South Slope site and later, a barracks facility would be added to the base in Warrenton.
The Coast Guard’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget contains $11 million for the project’s first phase – one of just two nationwide housing projects to make the cut. The project hinges on federal funding, however, and whether Congress will sign off on the funds this year is still unresolved.
Currier told the group the Astoria expansion is a priority, but funding is extremely limited.
“We’re in an austere budget to say the least,” he said. The strategy may shift to building a few units at a time as smaller chunks of funds become available.
Don Lee, housing manager for Sector Columbia River, spends most of his time in Astoria, home of two-thirds of the sector’s 153 housing units. After the new housing is built in Astoria, the number will shift up to 75 percent.
Astoria’s housing sets the standard for the rest of the sector, Lee said.
“I’m trying to bring everything up to to this quality,” he said.
Mary Jane Currier wandered through the second floor of the Alameda Street house and remembered what it was like to live in Astoria about 15 years ago.
“The community is so receptive, so welcoming and supportive,” she said.
She recalled that housing was hard to find then, and the development improved quality of life for many people.
“We were really proud of these,” she explained.