PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The City Council brushed aside neighborhood opposition and legal questions to authorize opening a homeless shelter in an vacant warehouse at Terminal 1 for six months — and possibly permanently if developer Homer Williams can raise between $60 million and $100 million to expand it into a homeless multi-service center.
The council voted 3 to 2 to authorize the Portland Housing Bureau to lease the 14-acre property at 2400 N.W. Front Ave. from the Bureau of Environmental Service, which owns it. The environmental services bureau is currently selling the property through a surplus sale process approved by the council. Bids are due on Aug. 15.
Voting for the lease were Mayor Charlie Hales and commissioners Steve Novick and Dan Saltzman, who proposed the project. Voting against it were commissioner Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz.
“Let’s keep trying to work together as a community, even if this is a divided vote,” said Hales.
Saltzman oversees the Portland Housing Bureau and said the shelter needs to be opened in response to the city’s affordable housing and homeless crisis. Fish oversees BES and wants the property to sold to create good-paying industrial jobs, with the proceeds used to reduce future BES rate increases.
The council did not approve a specific lease rate. Saltzman has proposed $10,000 a month, but Fish says the market value is up to $1.2 million a year. Novick said the council should set the rate after the bids for Terminal 1 are received and opened. Fish argues that because the property is owned by BES, it must be leased at market rates, otherwise ratepayers are illegally subsidizing it.
Fish’s position was supported by the Portland Utility Board and the Citizens Utility Board. Their representatives said the interests of BES ratepayers should be protected.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has notified the city that Terminal 1 was only cleaned up to environmental standard when the Port of Portland sold it to BES to be used as a staging ground for the Big Pipe project. Residential standards are much higher. The notification said the city must involve DEQ in reevaluating the property if the use is changed.
The vote followed over three hours of public testimony.
Prominent supporters included: developer Homer Williams, who first proposed the idea; consultant Don Mazziotti, a former Portland Development Commission director working with Williams on the project; and former City Hall staffer Rich Rodgers, who is currently working on homeless issues, among other things.
Prominent opponents included: Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Portland Audubon Society; John Jensen, political director if IBEW Local 48; Stuart Emmons, a Portland architect and former council candidate; and Andrew Baugh, the chair of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, who testified as a private citizen.
Notably absent was anyone from Multnomah County or either of city-county organization working on homeless and affordable housing issues, The Joint Office of Homeless Services and A Home for Everyone.
The hearing was the first time the proposal had been discussed publicly. The council also considered a $100,000 Equitable Housing and Planning Development grant from Metro to evaluate the feasibility of Williams’ idea for the site. The vote on it is scheduled for next week.
Many details of the temporary shelter emerged at the hearing publicly for the first time. Saltzman said the temporary shelter would be operated without making any permanent changes to the 96,000 square foot warehouse or surrounding property. He said portable toilets, sinks and showers would be moved onto the site, and the warehouse would be heated with portable propane heaters.
Around 50 people testified before the vote. Most either opposed the proposal entirely or urged the council to delay its vote until after the bids had been received and opened for the sale of Terminal 1.
Those most opposed included residents of Riverscape, a large condominium and apartment complex just south of the Terminal 1. Most said they felt blindsided by the proposal because no one from the city had contacted them before it became public. Many said they feared for their safety or the safety of their children if hundreds of homeless people were going to be houses at Terminal 1, either temporarily or permanently.
Also opposing even the temporary shelter was Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Portland Audubon Society. He said it violated policies to preserve industrial lands recently approved by the council in the Comprehensive Plan update, and warned it might prevent the plan from being approved by state land use regulators, as required by law.
Several of those who testified against the proposal suggested opening the unused Wapato Jail owned by Multnomah County in North Portland for the homeless instead. The idea is opposed by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.
Even most of those who supported the proposal said they wanted more information about it. Some supported opening a shelter in the warehouse only over the winter but not making it permanent.