In “Times up at the West,” (Street Roots, Nov. 12) we highlighted both the challenges and successes of the Macdonald Center to create 42 units of affordable housing in downtown Portland. They’re doing so by demolishing a 27-unit, run-down 100-year-old building now housing extremely poor and vulnerable people. The project is billed at $10 million.
The move means more than two-dozen people have, or will have to relocate to other housing in the city. Unfortunately, with only 60 days notice given in early October, some of the most vulnerable of Portland’s housed population is at risk of becoming homeless on Dec. 1. In this edition, relocation expert Martha Gies puts into perspective the complexities of these moves, and the myriad obstacles involved.
During our investigation we found a series of missteps that have led to the unfortunate circumstances. The Oregon Housing and Community Services seemed to be asleep at the wheel after Street Roots discovered that an agreement between the state agency and the Macdonald Center called for giving people 180-day notices, not just 60-day notices. (The Macdonald Center did send a letter nearly 2 years ago giving tenants information about the upcoming relocations, but no specific timeline or date was given as to the point of eviction.)
Sources also tell SR that the Macdonald Center, uninitiated in the relocation process, did not hire a professional relocation specialist until we began our investigation into the matter in mid-November.
The City of Portland for the most part has remained on the sidelines, while already cash-strapped non-profits work frantically to get people from the West into housing with very little resources.
We call for a time-out.
Maybe it’s possible that everyone at the West will find housing. With the recent hire of a relocation specialist and the partnerships created with local non-profits, we would like to think that all the residents of the West will have a warm place to celebrate the holidays: that despite the lack of oversight by the state and bureaucratic missteps, everything will be all right in the end. But when affordable housing’s best and brightest bring people so perilously close to the streets, we’ve got problems.
We believe in the Macdonald Center. The organization delivers top-notch, award-winning services to the elderly and low-income people of the region. The project will create safe and clean housing units for people currently living on the streets, a much-needed addition to the neighborhood.
The state and the city should work with any Macdonald Center residents unable to find adequate housing by the Dec. 1 eviction date, so that they will be allowed to continue living there until such housing is obtained.
Likewise, the state and the city need to close the loopholes that contribute to these circumstances by requiring that any affordable housing project mirror federal law to require the full relocations of people currently living in low-income housing. Now that we know the system’s faults and consequences, we have to fix it. There are lives hanging in the balance.