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  • 13 Oct 2015

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  • 14 Oct 2015

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City declares housing emergency, starts to act

The City Council declared a “housing emergency” last week.

Now what?

The unanimous vote followed hours of emotional testimony from people living on the streets and tenants who are being forced to move by no-fault evictions and rent increases. Advocates for low-income people and landlords also testified.

Many of the witnesses blamed Portland’s recovering economy for drawing new people to town and driving up rents, reducing the amount of affordable housing units not owned by public agencies or nonprofit organizations. However, some landlords said they were only responding to the law of supply and demand.

But the ordinance submitted by Mayor Charlie Hales does not create a single new homeless shelter or affordable housing project. Instead, it waives city regulations on siting them and authorizes the city to request financial help from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. The real work starts now as the council tries to implement the ordinance and keep other promises it is making.

“Let’s acknowledge that this vote in and of itself solves nothing,” Commissioner Nick Fish said when he voted in favor of the ordinance Wednesday, adding that it gives the city additional flexibility to deal with the issue.

The next steps begin Tuesday with a council work session on increasing the percentage of urban renewal funds set aside for affordable housing from 30 percent to as much as 50 percent. A hearing is set for Oct. 21.

Two more hearings are set for Wednesday.

One is on a $25,000 tax proposed by Hales on residential demolitions for infill projects that do not include density. The money would go for affordable housing projects. Neighborhood and preservation activists are split on the proposal. Some developers say it will only increase the cost of new houses. And the city’s Design Review Advisory Committee is disappointed Hales did not consult with them before proposing the tax.

You can read their letter here.

The other is the continuation of deliberations about tenant protections proposed by Commissioner Dan Saltzman. He wants to extend landlord notification requirements for no-fault evictions and rent increases beyond those in the state Landlord-Tenants Law. The proposal is supported by tenant advocates, but opposed by landlord representatives.

One stated goal of the council’s actions is to cut homelessness in Portland by 2017. The official starting point is a recent survey that found 3,801 homeless people — including 1,887 with no shelter, 872 in temporary shelters, and 1,042 in transitional housing.

“These people are our neighbors, and we must do better,” Hales said at Wednesday’s hearing.

What's next

Here are some of the other next steps for the Portland City Council:

• The Mayor's Office and A Home for Everyone will identify city-owned properties that can be converted to homeless shelters. A Home for Everyone is a joint city-Multnomah County initiative intended to reduce homelessness. The former Sears Armory outside of Multnomah Village in Southwest Portland already is under consideration.

• Relocate the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp in Old Town to Oregon Department of Transportation property in inner Southeast Portland. The purchase is to be made by the city as soon as possible.

• Consider studying a "linkage fee" on new developments that increase housing costs for affordable housing projects at an Oct. 28 council hearing.

• Have the housing bureau sign agreements with developers to spend $60 million in previously allocated urban renewal funds on affordable housing projects in various parts of the city.

• Consider using some surplus funds to finance a program to prevent the eviction of low-income women at the annual fall budget adjustment hearing on Oct. 27.

• Identify the source for $20 million in new homeless and housing assistance funds promised by Mayor Charlie Hales as part of a $30 million agreement with Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.