Tag Archives: Portland Housing Bureau

Breaking: Safety net funding prevails in city budget hearing

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

After months of speculation over budget cuts and service reductions, Portland’s safety net for the homeless and poor has tentatively been restored in this morning’s City Council meeting with the pending passage of the city’s 2012-13 draft budget.

City Commissioner Nick Fish pushed forward two amendments to Mayor Sam Adams’ budget proposal before the final vote. The first was a request for $250,000 to fully restore the city’s one-time funding for services to the current level of $4.8 million. The bulk of the funding pays for emergency shelter and short-term rent assistance to keep families in their homes, and quickly restore housing to people who become homeless. It also includes funding for overnight shelter and supportive housing at the Bud Clark Commons, and referral and information resources.

Staffing vacancies from retirements were credited with freeing up the money, which is earmarked for foreclosure prevention and homeownership support.

As one-time allocations, the funding for these services come up for renewal with each budget cycle, and were subject to reductions at the mayor’s discretion — this, despite the services’ priority status by city’s Office of Management Finance.

Fish’s second amendment changes all that, reclassifying the serial one-time request to ongoing funding.

“The direction will be over the next two years to fold in $4.6 million of safety net funding into the ongoing budget, so we don’t have to go over this exercise each year,” Fish said. “The Office of Management Finance has identified this as a priority but the city was using an unstable source of funding. My job is to hold the council’s feet to the fire.”

Both amendments passed unanimously.

Fish credited the momentum to preserve the safety net to a months-long campaign featuring images of citizens and civic leaders holding a sign stating, “I support the Portland Safety Net.” The campaign was organized by a coalition of organizations and individuals, including Street Roots, JOIN, Oregon Opportunity Network, and the Community Alliance of Tenants. “It made a difference,” Fish said.

Shifting those services from one-time to ongoing funding streams has been a goal of Fish since he took office. “It really completes for me a four-year journey in what may end up being one of the toughest budget cycles we go through.”

Nick Fish delivers the state of housing, a Portland story

By Nick Fish, Contributing Columnist

This week I presented my fourth housing budget to the City Council. It is a good time to reflect on the progress we have made together, the challenges we face, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Building a New House

I ran for City Council on a platform of changing the way we deliver affordable housing to struggling families, the homeless, and the disabled. I pledged to work with government, nonprofit, business, and faith community partners to build a new house, not just renovate the old one.

In 2010, Mayor Adams and I delivered on that promise by officially launching a new bureau — the Portland Housing Bureau. We combined all the city’s housing programs and funding sources under one roof. Why? Because the old house was divided, and we needed a new, sharper focus on the needs of the growing number of people who cannot afford to live in Portland. Continue reading

Parks bureau to create new rangers to patrol public parks


Portland Parks and Recreation’s contract for downtown security services is coming up for renewal. And with the season’s change is in the air.

Currently, a subsidiary of the Portland Business Alliance holds the $530,000 contract with the parks bureau for downtown security services. The PBA then contracts through the private security firm, Portland Patrol Inc., or PPI, for actual patrols.

Under this arrangement, 38 armed and 22 unarmed PPI guards patrol Portland’s Business Improvement District, 213 square blocks of downtown. Guards in the district operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends in the district. PPI guards also patrol 12 parks in the downtown as well as the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade as part of the current contract with the parks bureau. Continue reading

Portland gets funding for people living with HIV/AIDS on the skids

Back in March Street Roots reported on people experiencing homelessness with HIV/AIDS with the story Positive in poverty. In 2010, we also reported on the HIV/AIDS community losing funding through budget cuts.

Today the city announced that the Portland Housing Bureau will receive $1.365 million dollars in new funding. The press release from the Portland Housing Bureau gives details. Continue reading

Fish rolls out fair housing plan, answers allegations of going soft on landlords

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Housing Commissioner Nick Fish rolled out his fair housing action plan this morning in reaction to an audit earlier this year that found considerable discrimination against renters of color.

Durring the special forum in City Hall, Fish was flanked by John Trasvina, the assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at HUD, and Brad Avakian, Commissioner of Labor and Industries for Oregon, or BOLI, which is the lead inforcement agency on fair housing violations. BOLI is currently reviewing the test results of the housing audit commissioned by the city that showed a discrimination rate of 60 percent among rental units tested. The audit, conducted by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon and released in February, was the first such audit commissioned to determine barriers to housing.

The plan announced today packages education and outreach efforts with enforcement priorities and regular testing. It includes streamlining the intake and referral process, in collaboration with many organizations and government agencies.

“What it says is that in Portland, we will not tolerate discrimination and we are going to do something about it,” Fish said.

The plan follows the recommendations of the Fair Housing Committee’s Analysis to Impediments report.  It emphasizes enforcement efforts, which Fish has been attacked for being lax after the report was first released. Today’s article in The Oregonian  implies that Fish’s office didn’t have any enforcement intentions prior to the story going public in May, and that the audit showing discrimination was given in advance to a landlord representative on the Fair Housing Advisory Committee in an effort to help them craft their response.

After the forum, Fish responded to the allegations.

“I announced in May that we intended to pursue enforcement of the fair housing laws against landlords identified in the audit. We then took concrete steps to act on our commitment, including referring all the evidence of discrimination to BOLI for further action. Our deeds matched our words.”

Fish also countered the suggestion that the Metro Multifamily Housing Association, which represents landlords, had preferential treatment.

“No landlords received any preferential treatment during the Fair Housing committee process,” Fish said. “The Fair Housing Council gave MMHA a copy of the audit test results a day or two before a scheduled committee meeting. The intent was to avoid surprise and encourage a united response to the data. Later, during Fair Housing Month, my housing bureau solicited a quote from MMHA for a press release, designed to capture their commitment to ending discrimination in rental housing.”

“We have always believed that landlord associations could play a vital role going forward in ending discrimination, and treated them as a partner in our work,” Fish said.

Continue reading

Fish pledges enforcement, education against housing discrimination

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

An audit of the city’s fair housing practices completed nearly four months ago has recently set tongues wagging over what the city is going to do with the high rate of reported discrimination.

The audit by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon found that 32 out of 50 test interviews with landlords revealed different treatment for test applicants who were African-American or Latino. The audit was part of the city’s work to prepare its Analysis of Impediments report mandated by the federal government. It was the first such audit the city has commissioned.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish

“When we got the results we were alarmed by the high incidence of discrimination, particularly among people of color,” said City Commissioner Nick Fish, who heads up the Portland Housing Bureau. Fish said he and Portland Housing Bureau Executive Director Margaret Van Vliet are taking a dual track approach to rectify the situation, which was first published by The Oregonian.

“We’re going to be working with landlords and their associations and the advocacy community to do outreach and education,” Fish said. “At the same time, we’re going to do some targeted enforcement of the law.”
Fish said that since the city received the audit back in February, he has been talking with various parties, including the Oregon Law Center and Attorney General John Kroger, about developing an approach to addressing the disparities. The violations exposed in the Fair Housing Council’s audit were to state and federal laws, and enforcement is triggered through an essentially complaint driven process, according to Fish. Fair housing complaints are not processed through the city, he said.

However, Fish said he is talking with the attorney general about partnering with other forces, either through administrative or with a lawsuit, to push enforcement on some egregious violators.

“There will be something tangible we can point to,” Fish said.

The audit comprised 50 tests – 25 test tenants based in race (African-American renters with white), and 25 based on national origin (Latino compared to white). Of the race tests, 15 showed different treatment. Of the national origin tests, 17 showed different treatment and 6 were inconclusive. Among the disparities in treatment were African-Americans and Latinos being quoted higher movie-in costs and higher rent, and additional costs that were not applied to white applicants.

Fish’s father, Rep. Hamilton Fish, was a champion of the Fair Housing Act of 1988, which expanded protections to families with children and people with disabilities. It also expanded options for redress on grievances through private means.

Breakdown: Proposed budget cuts could drastically alter local services

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

Homeless and low-income advocates, service providers, and policymakers were put on notice when the Republican-controlled — and Tea Party infused — House of Representatives released it’s budget last month.

The House budget plan would cut $61 billion in discretionary spending (which does not include defense spending or entitlement programs, such as Social Security). That includes $5.5 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and more than $1 billion, almost half the budget, for maintaining aging public housing units. Funding to Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting would be completely eliminated, and programs paying for substance-abuse treatment, mental-health care, low-income housing programs, education programs for the poor, and senior and disabled programs all are on the chopping block. The cuts being proposed are not snips and trims, but program-altering gouges that service providers say will fundamentally change how the safety net operates and serves vulnerable populations.

The House’s budget passed on Feb. 19, but failed to gain enough support in the Senate. However, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, supported by Democrats and cutting $10 billion, hasn’t garnered enough support to pass in the Senate, either. Meanwhile, stop-gap budgets passed in the House continue to chip away at funding. It could be months before a settlement is reached, and everyone with a dog in the fight is bracing for significant cuts to safety-net programs.

“It will be devastating,” says Jean DeMaster, the executive director of the social service agency Human Solutions. “Huge numbers of people” will not be able to have their basic needs of food, shelter, and safety met.

“The problem is not going to show up today,” DeMaster says. But consider a child in the first grade, who becomes homeless, and may not be able to participate in an after-school program that would help him or her keep their grades up. “They don’t graduate from high school, then they don’t get jobs,” DeMaster says. “(The problem) does show up eventually.” Continue reading

Street Roots joins housing group on a two-day peer learning trip to Seattle

Street Roots is joining  Commissioner Nick Fish later today (by bus due to a mudslide along the Amtrak line) — along with an array of city and county representatives, the Portland Business Alliance, and non-profit leaders for a two-day trip to Seattle to look at resource development and best practices for housing and homeless services.

“I’m excited to learn from Seattle’s best and brightest affordable housing experts this week.  In the midst of shrinking budgets and increasing demand for help, we need to develop sustainable and flexible sources of funding,” says Fish.  “Seattle has a proven model, and we are meeting with leaders in philanthropy, government and community development to learn from their experience.”

Due to the on-going economic slump and possible federal cuts to housing programs along with projected revenue declines, specifically through the tax-increment financing system that helps fuel affordable housing projects — the region is faced with various challenges when it comes to ending homelessness and creating affordable housing in the future.

This comes on the heels of the merger of the Bureau and Housing and Community Development and portions of the Portland Development Commission, a new strategic plan by the Portland Housing Bureau, and several new affordable housing projects launched this year.

The trip sends a strong signal that the Portland Housing Bureau under Fish, and the county are being aggressive about how to properly plan for the future of housing.

The group will be meeting with a powerhouse of Seattle foundations, both local and federal representatives, housing levy advocates, and the local Housing Authority to look at many of the challenges and possibilities outlined above.

SR will be doing interviews with different folks along the way, and writing a news piece about the trip for the March 18 edition of the newspaper.

SR is also taking part in the trip to learn more about the inner workings of government, foundations, the business community and nonprofits and how they relate to homelessness and affordable housing to better understand where to prioritize our news coverage through the newspaper, and advocacy efforts in the community.

The trip is being financed by the Enterprise Community Partners (Northwest) — a national nonprofit focusing on community development and affordable housing, and the City of Portland. (Street Roots and the Portland Business Alliance are paying for their own expenses.)

Those headed to Seattle for the meetings this week include: Beckie Lee, Chief of Staff for Deborah Kafoury; Margaret Van Vliet, Director, Portland Housing Bureau; Andy Miller, Manager of Strategic Housing and Planning, Portland Housing Bureau; Daniel Ledezma, Policy Director for Nick Fish; Marc Jolin, Executive Director JOIN; Jesse Beason, Executive Director, Proud Ground; Shane Abma, Vice President of Downtown and Central Services, Portland Business Alliance; Carly Riter, Government Relations, Portland Business Alliance; Amanda Saul, Pacific Northwest Senior Program Director, Enterprise Community Partners; and Mary Li with the Multnomah County DCHS.

— By Israel Bayer

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at the Portland Housing Bureau

The past two years at the Portland Housing Bureau have seen some enormous changes, ranging from the merger of the Bureau and Housing and Community Development and portions of the Portland Development Commission, to a new strategic plan, to working to change the way the bureau communicates with the broader public.

Continue reading

Holding up the roof at the House

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

The Housing Alliance is finalizing its advocacy agenda for the 2011 legislative cycle and preparing the case it will make to the state Legislature regarding why the state should support and, in some cases, bolster affordable housing programs.

In a year when the state’s general fund has a $3.5 billion shortfall and the Legislature will make massive cuts to state-funded programs, this is a Sisyphean task

“This is not a good year to be asking the Legislature for money,” says Beth Kaye, the Portland Housing Bureau’s legislative affairs manager.

“There are already proposals circulating from all sides looking at really devastating cuts to the network of support,” says Janet Byrd, the executive director of Neighborhood Partnerships and chair of the Housing Alliance, referring to cuts to welfare programs, mental health, drug addiction treatment programs, and others. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Women’s Warming Center opens at TPI

On the one of the worst nights of the year to date, the Women’s Warming Center will be opening tonight with a capacity of 70 women.

Women can reserve a space at the warming center by contacting Transition Projects. Women can stop by 475 NW Glisan Mon – Fri, 8:30 -7:30 PM. They can also call 503-823-4930 24 hours a day (after hours, press 5 to reach the shelter staff). Continue reading

Street Roots calls for city, state to change relocation policy to mirror federal law

The story about the West Hotel sheds light on a small but significant loophole in Oregon’s housing system that can have a major impact on the lives of people experiencing poverty.

The MacDonald Center is creating 42 units of affordable housing in downtown Portland by demolishing a 27-unit, run-down 100-year-old building currently housing extremely poor and vulnerable people. It is to be commended for its effort to actually improve the city’s affordable housing stock for our downtown neighbors.

The problem is, according to local and state laws, the organization is not mandated to move the current tenants out of the West and into safe, comparably affordable housing, leaving relocation efforts up for grabs.

When housing developers receive federal funding, they are legally required by the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act, passed by Congress in 1970, to help the tenants find housing and pay for their relocation.
The Macdonald Center did not receive federal money for the $10 million dollar project, so they are not obligated to find housing for the tenants currently living at the West. According to the MacDonald Center, they are working hard to make sure all of the tenants are supported and have been working with a number of services and housing providers to secure housing for the current tenants.

Unfortunately, it may not be enough. Time will tell.

The MacDonald Center has a remarkable record of working with some of Portland’s most vulnerable populations and does an amazing job at engaging and providing services for people living in poverty, specifically the elderly population. Unfortunately, due to the lack of oversight by the state, they have been set up to potentially fail in relocating a small number of people who may become homeless.

We don’t blame the MacDonald Center for working to do the right thing. The affordable housing business is a complex system that even Portland’s finest find difficult to navigate. Programs to help the poor and hard-to-house are at capacity, and the private market in Downtown Portland is simply not vested in accepting low-income renters, particularly those with criminal records or other complications. With each passing year, the downtown core loses ground on the number of affordable housing units available to low-income families and individuals, increasing the challenges to private developers and nonprofits who ultimately want to do the right thing.

The City of Portland and the State of Oregon should create an avenue to mirror federal policy to require relocation services to individuals experiencing poverty. The cost of prevention is far more economical than the price of getting people back into housing once they’ve been reduced to the streets. It’s also more humane.

Locally, it’s the Portland Housing Bureau’s responsibility to ensure that any affordable housing projects, private or public, work with people experiencing poverty to prevent them from becoming  homeless. If we are going to end homelessness, we cannot simultaneously accept a process that creates it.

Street Roots editorial from the Nov. 12 edition.

Times up at the West with less than a month left to find housing

West Hotel on NW 6th between Davis and Couch

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

All is quiet in the West Hotel.

The two-dozen residents of the Old Town single resident occupancy (SRO) hotel are, for the first time in 27 years, no longer kept awake until one in the morning by the cacophonic punk rock sounds that would drift upwards from the iconic rock nightclub Satyricon two floors below.

The building is quiet to the point of eeriness. Entering the West through a black painted door on Northwest 6th Avenue, walking across the small lobby crowded by two recycling bins stored along one wall and up the steep stairs to a heavy wooden door opening to the first floor, a tenant hears nothing but the sounds of his own footsteps.

But there is something else now keeping the West’s residents awake at night: the possibility that they will become homeless if they don’t find new housing and move to it by Dec. 1.

The Macdonald Center, a Catholic-inspired assisted living facility and social-service agency, gave 60-day eviction-without-cause notices to the tenants on Oct. 1.
The MacDonald Center is nationally recognized for its innovative assisted-living facility, the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Residence, which provides assisted living and nursing care for 54 low-income or homeless people with chronic medical illnesses, physical impairments or disabilities.

The Macdonald Center has owned the West Hotel since October 2008. Executive director Pat Janik says the plan was originally to renovate the West. Built in 1905 and in need of extensive repairs, the West is, to use the words of Northwest Pilot Project’s housing consultant Bobby Weinstock, an “old, tired hotel that has outlived its usefulness.” Continue reading

City pumps $1 million into housing bottleneck

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

The Portland Housing Bureau announced this month how it plans to spend a $1 million special allocation to address the rise in homelessness in Portland.

The money is being used to alleviate the housing bottleneck by placing homeless people currently in shelters or transitional facilities, into permanent housing, and to then use those empty shelter and transitional beds for people now living on the streets.

The Housing Bureau expects that 200 individuals or family members will be permanently housed, the incomes of 47 people will increase through job and employment training, and 105 beds in shelters and transitional housing will open for people currently living outside.

“It’s a crisis time in our system,” says Portland Housing Bureau Director Margaret Van Vliet, speaking about the economic pressures put on the homeless network of services.

“If we can help people who are a little bit stuck and ready to transition to the next level of housing…then we free up more space along the continuum,” Vliet said.

“There will be people who will be permanently self sufficient because of this money,” Traci Manning, Central City Concern’ s chief operating officer, said.

The $1 million is funding two collaborations of service agencies, one serving homeless adults and the second serving homeless youth.

The adult collaboration is composed of seven social service agencies, led by the outreach agency JOIN. The other agencies are Central City Concern, Cascade AIDS Project, the Black Parent Initiative, the Salvation Army’s female shelter, and Catholic Charities’ El Programa Hispano and Housing Transitions Programs.

The collaboration received $820,000. JOIN’ s executive director, Marc Jolin, said JOIN will focus on placing people into permanent housing and provide rental assistance, move-in and moving costs, and other support services so people can stay in their housing.

Manning said Central City Concern will use its portion of the money to provide eviction prevention and rent assistance, move 40 people into permanent housing, and help 30 people find employment or apply for Social Security benefits.

The other agencies will provide housing placement for people living with HIV/AIDS, ethnic minorities, and homeless women.

The youth collaboration is made up of New Avenues for Youth, Janus Youth Programs, the Native American Youth and Family Center, and Outside In. The collaboration received $180,000. $51,000 of that money will infuse Janus Youth’ s outreach programs, which suddenly and unexpectedly did not receive a $100,000 grant from the federal government earlier this month.

Dennis Lundberg, a Janus associate director, said the money will be used to rehire two full-time outreach staff he was forced to lay off after the federal grant fell through. Ken Cowdery, the executive director of New Avenues, said the remaining money will be used to house 20 youths and provide employment and job training services.

Mayor Sam Adams gave this one-time allocation to the Housing Bureau in April to address homelessness in the Portland’ s downtown core. The money was originally meant to increase the amount of shelter beds, but City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Housing Bureau, convened meetings of stakeholders, including social service providers, activists, law enforcement and business leaders. The group decided to use the money on permanently housing homeless people.

The stakeholders involved have perspectives about homelessness that are often extremely disparate from each other. For instance, the Portland Business Alliance has long advocated for the increase of shelter capacity, which is at loggerheads with Portland’s emphasis on spending resources placing homeless people directly into housing.

Sources say the process of applying for the funding was no different than other proposal applications. What was slightly unusual, sources said, was the inclusion of very specific language regarding how many people were to placed in permanent housing.

Jolin described the goal numbers the proposal process identified as “aggressive,” but says they will not be impossible to meet because of the collaborating agencies’ ability to leverage their existing services.

“What’ s exciting is that it is going to allow us to serve some people who are difficult to house,” Jolin said. “Otherwise), we wouldn’t have the ability to house them.”

Given that the money is one-time funding, none of the agencies will be hiring additional staff. With the city expecting to lose revenue this year, it is unlikely that the money will be renewed.

“I am going to assume that the chances are not very high,” said Van Vliet, although she said it was possible that the Housing Bureau would seek the money from community sources, such as local businesses, especially if outcomes are successful.

The city has also announced its winter shelter initiative, to begin in mid-November. Transition Projects will receive $190,000 to operate an overnight warming center for single women living on the streets. The Salvation Army will receive $180,000 to help operate winter emergency shelter and day services at its Harbor Light facility at Second Avenue and Burnside.