By State Representative Rob Nosse
Many of you know I write an e-newsletter. It really took off during the start of the pandemic when people were hungry for information and updates about what was going on and what the state, county and city were doing in response to the pandemic. It was like we could not communicate enough.
That e-newsletter finally became weekly during the 2021 legislative session and while we don’t have a constant drum beat about the pandemic anymore, it is not hard to figure out what people in SE Portland want to hear about. But those issues are not always related to what I do in the state legislature.
That is a long-winded way to say I cannot talk enough about the problems of most concern to my voters, those being housing costs, homelessness and the mental health crisis that is playing out on our streets.
When I first started talking about that topic regularly, I tried to stay in my lane and focus on what state government is doing. I got a few “not good enough” replies which I interpreted to mean all of government – city, county, Metro and state need to work on this problem together and that people wanted to know what I was doing about it with other elected leaders locally.
Now in my e-newsletters, I try to lift up something going on around this problem whether it is my part of government or not, It is not to take credit, but to reveal what is happening because a lot is going on and it isn’t all covered in the news. So, let me share a few important positive developments because I know sometimes it feels like nothing is getting done.
We have more shelter beds coming online. On any given night we have more than 1,600 beds, sleeping pods and motel rooms available for use and that is up from 1,350 before the pandemic started.
In March, the county announced that with COVID-19 waning, the Joint Office of Housing and Homelessness was working with shelter providers to bring another 450 beds online now that more people can be housed with fewer public health restrictions. This is 450 more above the current 1,600.
The safe rest villages that City Commissioner Dan Ryan has been trying to set up have finally been sited. There are seven locations with one dedicated to RV parking. They have not opened yet, but locations have been secured. You can read about them on Ryan’s website. While sanctioned camping is not the best solution to our homelessness crisis, it is part of the solution until more housing comes online.
The housing bond measure that Portland residents approved back in 2016 is finally taking hold. It was reported in April that by the year 2023, 1,300 cost-friendly apartments will come online for rental. That is a lot of new apartments!
Meanwhile, Metro attorneys rejected as unconstitutional, twice, the proposed initiative petition from “People for Portland” that would redirect 75 percent of its voter-approved homeless services away from housing support and treatment to shelters.
Metro is charged with implementing the Here Together Ballot Measure that was passed in May of 2020. That measure is intended to provide services and support to homeless people and those on the verge of becoming homeless.
I am not a “hater” of People for Portland, though I wish its funders would be public about who they are. I thought this potential ballot measure was very misguided.
Last but not least, I don’t usually write about the federal government, but in March the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that Oregon would receive $46 million to fund 132 housing projects with Multnomah County getting $28.5 million to fund over 40 different shelter, housing and homeless services projects in our county.
I also think, based on my observation, that there is a little less unsanctioned camping in our part of Portland than at the peak of the pandemic. Sites that I monitor have been getting cleaned up with perhaps the glaring exceptions of the SE industrial area between the river and SE 12th Ave., Powell Blvd. and of course Laurelhurst Park, which is filling up with tents again.
Unfortunately, we are losing ground on maintaining and bringing more rental property online. A report by ECON Northwest commissioned by relators and Multifamily Housing Northwest that was just released, showing that Portland lost 3987 rental houses between 2015 and 2020. This is a problem I hope to dig into over the next several months and ideally have something ready to address it for the long session that will start in January 2023.
More to come on this topic over the summer. Meanwhile, if you have things you want me to talk more about, please send your suggestions to email@example.com.