For the fifth time since 2015, Portland leaders have extended the city’s housing state of emergency – this time, for three more years.
City leaders first announced a one-year housing state of emergency under former Mayor Charlie Hales. The declaration allows officials to cut much of the bureaucratic red tape that usually accompanies the creation of homeless shelters. They’ve extended the state of emergency repeatedly since 2015 as the region’s homeless population grew.
The most recent extension took place last March. At the time, city officials predicted this would be the final extension, as they were poised to greenlight a package of permanent zoning code changes that would make it easier to build shelters in Portland. The project, officially called the Shelter to Housing Continuum project, relaxed the zoning rules in an effort to increase the number of available shelter beds and other inexpensive housing options such as recreational vehicles and tiny homes on wheels.
But Portland City Council members indicated Wednesday that they were not yet ready to give up those emergency powers. The council unanimously voted in favor of a three-year extension, which Ryan said lined up with the money the city was receiving through the American Rescue Plan.
The extension comes as local governments in the Portland region face mounting pressure over how to address the increase in people camping on the streets. On Tuesday, a property developer sued the county for opening a shelter near their office buildings in the Central Eastside neighborhood, partially on the grounds that the industrial area was not zoned for shelters. Last week, nonprofit People for Portland, a 501(c)(4) that has been pushing for the city to build more shelters and crack down on outdoor camping, filed to put a measure on the November ballot. The proposal would redirect money from the 2020 Metro Homeless Service measure away from expanding supportive housing services and toward building more shelter.
City Commissioner Dan Ryan, who oversees the Portland Housing Bureau, said there were still “a few challenges and problems” to work out with the code stemming from the Shelter to Housing Continuum project before the city no longer needed the housing state of emergency. Doing nothing, Ryan said, would mean shelters under development would be stopped in their tracks.
“In order to stay focused on necessary action that requires government to be agile and responsive to the urgent needs of this humanitarian crisis, we’re extending this housing state of emergency,” Ryan said.
Ryan said the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability was trying to smooth out the bumps in the code overhaul, a process that he said would take “a considerable amount of time.” The state of emergency expires on March 22, 2025.