What's Up With That? PeaceHealth paid to have houses removed

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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My question, with the news of major layoffs at PeaceHealth Southwest, concerns the recent removal of a number of vacated houses behind the hospital, in the vicinity of HeLa High School. I know the land buying and house moving began many years ago. But this summer, several remaining houses on the acres along Northeast 92nd Avenue were moved. Remaining concrete has been jackhammered into smaller pieces for disposal and the ground somewhat smoothed and plowed, maybe for fall grass planting. All this seems to cost someone some money. Are the houses being sold and the proceeds paying for this? I am assuming PeaceHealth still owns those now-vacant lots surrounding the hospital. Did the moving come out of their budget?

— Linda Weirather

Linda, far from selling the houses to recoup the money, the hospital has had to give them away — and pay — to get them removed from the area. But it's gotten a pretty darned good deal on the job, according to spokeswoman Michelle Halfhill.

PeaceHealth Southwest has been moving these houses out of its neighborhood for a few years, and Columbian readers may recall some coverage of a bunch that wound up parked on land on Northeast 172nd Avenue. They were supposed to move along but never did. The hospital and the mover at that time, Homes Worth Keeping, wound up in court over the matter, but those wheels of justice are famously slow. The houses still sit there — the property of a private landowner who wishes he'd never agreed to let them pause on his field.

Meanwhile, the hospital just finished the last of this land-clearing job by hiring Northwest Structural Moving of Scappoose, Ore., to move 16 more homes. "They gave us a reduced rate to move the homes, and in return they received the titles," Halfhill said. "We paid $5,800 per home. Normally it would be $20,000 per home." Or more, she added, since older homes sometimes require special care in handling asbestos. That didn't happen with these.

According to its website, nwstructuralmoving.com, Northwest Structural Moving "recycles" — that is, restores and resells — homes that probably would have been demolished otherwise.

The removal of those 16 houses finishes up "this phase" of the hospital's land clearing project, Halfhill said. Grass will be planted where the houses used to be. There are no specific plans for the land, she said, but the vacant houses couldn't just sit there indefinitely because they were becoming a target for vandalism. "It was a safety issue," she said.

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