PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The City Council in Portland, Oregon, has voted unanimously to extend the citywide housing state of emergency for three more years.
KOIN-TV reports the housing state of emergency declaration extended Wednesday gives the city flexibility when it comes to zoning. Portland’s zoning code does not allow mass shelters on industrial property, but with the extension the city says it can bypass those zoning laws to build shelters.
The decision comes as the city tries to figure out a more permanent solution to its housing crisis.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps noted that the extension indicates deeper issues.
“This is the sixth time this housing emergency has been extended,” Mapps said. “To me, that points to the need for deeper structural change in how we go about organizing our attempts to address houselessness.”
Portland’s housing and homeless crisis has been exacerbated during the pandemic. During the area’s 2019 point-in-time count — a yearly census of sorts — an estimated 4,015 people were experiencing homelessness, with half of them “unsheltered” or sleeping outside. Advocates say the numbers have likely significantly increased.
Earlier this month, Mayor Ted Wheeler used his own emergency powers to create a new homeless service hub to streamline city efforts.
Homeless advocates have denounced the mayor’s plans, which include the creation of mass shelters that could house up to 1,000 people saying that’s not a permanent solution.
In addition Wheeler’s top adviser — Sam Adams, a former Portland mayor — has also outlined a controversial plan that would force up to 3,000 homeless people into massive temporary shelters staffed by Oregon National Guard members. Advocates say the move, which marks a major shift in tone and policy, would ultimately criminalize homelessness.
Last month Wheeler used his emergency powers to ban camping on the sides of “high-crash” roadways — which encompass about 8% of the total area of the city. The decision followed a report showing 19 of 27 pedestrians killed by cars in Portland last year were homeless. More than 50 encampments were removed.
In November, following an unforeseen windfall in revenue -- primarily from business taxes collected by the city and county – Portland and Multnomah County officials announced a shared $38 million spending package, which among other things will be used to create 400 more shelter beds, increasing the number of outreach workers, expanding behavioral health services and funding community cleanup programs.
On a statwide scale lawmakers addressed a lack of affordable housing and homelessness, during Oregon's 2022 Legislative Session, passing a $400 million spending package.
Out of the spending package $215 million will be used to build and preserve affordable housing, this includes supporting affordable housing construction projects struggling with market and supply chain disruptions, acquiring and producing manufactured housing parks, and supporting land acquisition for additional projects.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, across Oregon, there is a shortage of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income households. Many of these households are severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing.
Based on a study published by the state, Oregon must build more than 140,000 affordable homes over the next 20 years and not lose any existing homes.
In addition, $165 million will be used to address immediate homelessness needs statewide — including increasing shelter capacity and outreach to the vulnerable population. Some of the money -- $25 million – will go directly to local governments to respond to the specific needs in their communities, including shelter, outreach, hygiene and clean-ups.
Oregon, has one of the highest rates of unhoused people in the country. A 2020 federal review found that 35 people in Oregon are experiencing homelessness per 10,000. Only three states had a higher rate: New York (47 people per 10,000), Hawaii (46 people per 10,000) and California (41 people per 10,000).