By Nancy Tannler
The Shelter to Housing Continuum (S2HC) will file an ordinance to adopt the new codes for City Council’s approval this month. This joint effort of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), the Housing Bureau and Joint City-County Office of Homeless Services has retooled a few city codes to better address the homeless crisis.
Due to the urgency of the situation, the committee recommends these new codes be adopted before the housing emergency declaration expires on April 4, 2021.
The report contains amendments to the Portland City Code that would provide safe, decent and affordable shelter and housing to everyone in Portland. These changes would ensure that this continues, even when we are not in crisis.
The S2HC project expands fair housing laws by increasing what is considered to be shelter and housing and will lower the barriers so non-profit, for-profit and public-sector housing sources can provide more places to live.
Here is a recap of the code changes being recommended: more flexibility for shelter siting; establishing outdoor shelters for community use; expanding group living allowances; and allowing permanent occupancy of recreational vehicles and Tiny Houses On Wheels (THOW). There will be no change to the current code regulating how many THOWs are allowed per property.
Currently, houseless individuals are camping in random places throughout the city. S2HC hopes to give these people legitimate places to camp. The places people are camping now are permissible due to the Title 15 housing emergency declaration.
“The new ‘outdoor shelter’ zoning code allows for a variety of configurations,” said Eric Engstrom, Principal Planner, BPS.
For instance, a vacant parking lot, preferably linked to a church or other social service, would be made available for car or tent camping, yurts or small cabins. Some would also provide hygiene facilities for those housed there. An example of this is Kenton Woman’s Village.
Re-purposing existing vacant buildings for shelters or housing is another way to provide more housing. The Joint Office has opened new shelters in existing buildings like the Laurelwood Center on SE Foster Rd., previously a grocery store.
This could include using old schools, stores, motels, offices and senior care facilities to create more co-housing, dormitory and single-room occupancy living arrangements.
To ensure there will be room for everyone, it is recommended that the new code increase the number of people allowed to live in these places.
Allowing RVs to substitute for tiny house allotments on personal property will increase Portland’s ability to absorb the homeless. The problem with RVs is that they are not connected to the sewer. That would be remedied with traveling wastewater collection trucks.
There will be no camping in natural areas, environmental zones or parks. There will, however, be access to restrooms in 70 city parks, some 24/7.
Al Burns, AICP, Senior City Planner, presented a series of maps showing available properties for use as outdoor shelters. The maps depict the potential for shelters throughout the city with lots that are at least 5,000 sq. ft. There are still many under-developed sites, especially in SE.
Burns says the best-case scenario is to allow outdoor shelters on any available properties, not just vacant properties. There is plenty of suitable zoned urban land. The impediment is the cost of purchasing land, development and operations.
The idea that SE Portland would receive the majority of shelters was a matter of concern. Marc Jolin, Joint City-County Office of Homeless Services, put the Commissioners’ minds at ease when he spoke of geographic equity.
Jolin said one consideration that determines where to site a shelter is access to services, also adding that another good reason to evenly disperse shelters is the hope that the people would build a connection to the community.
Denis Theriault, Communications Coordinator, Joint Office of Homeless Services was clear that these facilities take a long time to establish, so there won’t be an influx of new shelters anytime soon. Theirault said many institutions work independently outside of city/county offices.
The Church of the Nazerene off of I-205 is an example. There are several tiny house shelters on this property not funded by the city or county.
There is however, a budget for any organization that would like to participate as long as the project meets the approval of the city. The Joint Office is actively seeking alternative ideas from the community about properties that have the potential of becoming a shelter.
The S2HC amendments to the Portland City Code will not go into effect unless first adopted by an ordinance of Portland City Council.
For more information visit portland.gov/bps/s2hc.