Portland approves housing emergency plan, what comes next is unclear – OregonLive.com
Portland is officially in a housing emergency. But what that actually means for the city’s more than 1,800 people living on the street is still unclear.
The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the emergency declaration, which allows leaders to waive city code to allow temporary emergency homeless shelters, to open day-storage areas, and to use city properties to address a growing crisis.
“These people are our neighbors and we must do better,” said Mayor Charlie Hales.
One week after Multnomah County and city leaders vowed to spend $30 million on homelessness, and two weeks after Hales announced a surprise plan to tackle the issue by opening a women’s shelter, there are many unanswered questions.
“Let’s acknowledge that this vote in and of itself solves nothing,” Commissioner Nick Fish said Wednesday, adding that he wholeheartedly supports the plan but said it merely gives the city “flexibility” to address the crisis.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz said Portland doesn’t know where its $20 million share of the homelessness pledge will come from. “It’s very much a matter of not only, ‘What are we going to do?'” she said before voting, “But ‘How are we going to pay for it?'”
Josh Alpert, Hales’ chief of staff who worked on the strategy, said Portland should be able to do more for the homeless, and faster. “There is no model to follow,” he said, “No playbook.”
Portland hopes that whatever it does becomes a model.
Officials spent a lot of time Wednesday discussing options down the road.
Hales said the city needs to be “nimble and flexible.” Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Housing Bureau, said he would propose new fees on developers to help pay for housing, and offer incentives for projects that include affordable housing. He said the city has 1,100 new affordable housing units in the pipeline and would soon decide on funding for an additional 600.
Fish said he supports increasing the urban renewal money set aside for affordable housing from 30 percent to 50 percent.
Alpert and Marc Jolin, the initiatives director for A Home for Everyone, the Multnomah County and city-backed housing venture, offered details on the emergency plan. Jolin said it would provide 650 shelter spaces for women and people with disabilities, and help 1,000 avoid eviction.
“The lack of affordable vacancies has made finding housing an almost insurmountable challenge,” Jolin said.
The City Council also held a public hearing Wednesday on proposed rules to strengthen renters’ rights, including a proposal to require landlords to give tenants 90 days’ notice, not 30 or 60 depending on longevity, for no-cause evictions.
Justin Buri, executive director for the Community Alliance of Tenants, gave a fiery speech calling for more political leadership to protect renters. “Tenants are tired of being silenced out of fear, retribution or a bad reference from our landlords,” he said.
Dozens of tenant advocates and residents told of escalating rents, eviction notices and uncertain futures. “If I have to leave Portland because I can’t afford to rent here, then what about everybody else?” said Margot Black, who said she’s a married mother whose household is around the median family income.
Landlord advocates such as lobbyist Cindy Robert said Portland’s skyrocketing rents are a product of supply and demand. “Changing the rules on landlords does not lead to more housing,” Robert said.
Robert said 30-day no-cause evictions protect good renters from nuisance neighbors. “To neighbors of bad actors, [30 days] seems like an eternity,” she said.
The City Council would also require a 90-day notice if rents are raised 5 percent or more within one year. Saltzman was the lone City Council member to vote against that amendment, instead favoring a 10 percent threshold.
In the weeks since Hales’ abrupt announcement, officials have been walking back statements and clarifying goals.
Hales had declared that the city would get all homeless women off the street by the end of 2015. Now, Alpert said, the goal is to do it “as fast as we can.”
“The mayor likes to be aggressive in goal-setting,” Alpert said. “Whether or not we will actually get to house or shelter every single women who is currently on the street by the end of the year, I don’t know. But that’s a goal we should be aiming for.”
The mayor’s office also clarified details on its goal to cut homelessness in half.
Officials will measure their success in fighting homelessness against the 2015 figure of 3,801 — which includes 1,887 with no shelter, 872 in temporary shelter and 1,042 in transitional housing. The goal will be to cut the total to 1,900 within three years, Alpert said.
But it’s not clear when they’ll be able to track progress.
Officials generally do a one-night count of homeless residents every two years, with tallies scheduled for 2017 and 2019. Alpert said officials are considering annual counts.
— Andrew Theen and Brad Schmidt