Portland Housing Bureau works to help people maintain stability

From Margaret Van Vliet is the director of the Portland Housing Bureau

With its recent pieces on the West Hotel, Street Roots continues its diligent reporting on issues concerning some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Many SR readers know that the West Hotel is being replaced by the Macdonald Center, and the 27 people who have lived there will have to move.

The new building will house a different – and larger – population of needy people in quality homes that also come with supportive services to help people maintain stability.

In a recent editorial, SR asked whether the Portland Housing Bureau has undermined its goal of ending homelessness by not being more aggressive about relocation requirements when apartments are torn down to make way for redevelopment.

Surely, it’s a fair question. And I’d like to offer the bureau’s perspective, from our vantage point as stewards of public dollars.

First of all, we are confident that the Macdonald Center is doing a good job handling each resident’s unique situation, including paying moving costs and getting people settled. Today, all but two residents have secured a new apartment with the help of the nonprofit.

Of course, some projects get more relocation support especially when federal funds are invested in redevelopment. Federal rules require comprehensive relocation plans which help residents find a new, suitable apartment, while paying all moving costs. In addition, any difference in rent for two years is covered, to ensure that households are not destabilized by the disruption of having to move.

And while the federal requirements provide an extra-strong safety net, it is expensive. Really expensive. And neither the Macdonald Center nor PHB has the funds to make such an extensive and costly plan work.

PHB and other units of government invest heavily in the community’s safety net, and I’m confident that help will be available to those that most need it. This year, the City will spend about $12 million on investments in the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Of this amount, almost $9 million is coming from the City’s general fund, and the rest comes from federal funds. These dollars target a number of interventions aimed at helping people experiencing homelessness, or at risk for becoming homeless. The funds go toward a variety of services, including eviction prevention, short-term rent assistance, shelter operations, transitional housing, and paying outreach workers to connect with people living on the streets. Along with local resources that Multnomah County contributes to the 10-Year Plan, some $25 million in local tax dollars will go directly to help people experiencing homelessness.

In addition to our investments in the safety net, PHB also is quite focused on carrying out what the 10-Year Plan called for: building as many apartments as possible for people who are at the lowest income levels.

More affordable housing is the best long-term solution to the problem of homelessness. That is why Portland is building the Resource Access Center (RAC) with a capital cost of $50 million, $30 million of which comes from tax increment funds. The Housing Authority of Portland, State of Oregon, and federal tax credits make up the difference in capital costs for the RAC.

Several other buildings that serve people who would otherwise be homeless have also received major capital investments by the City. These include The Admiral, the Martha Washington, Madrona Studios, Walnut Park, Roselyn Apartments, and more.

We sorely wish we could do more “on the ground” for people like the former residents of the West Hotel, to make sure they don’t fall into homelessness. We are doing the best we can to make sure that we are making sound investments that would yield the most good for our community.

We appreciate the advocacy of the Street Roots editorial team in making sure that there is a venue for honest dialogue about issues that we, as a community, are passionate about. Our team at PHB is committed to making long-lasting impact on people’s lives, and we’re keeping our eyes on the long-term prize: building enough affordable housing that homelessness is a thing of the past.

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