The fate of a controversial ballot measure to dramatically reshape the Portland region’s approach to homelessness rests in the hands of a judge. But a group of businesses is ready to give big nevertheless.
In the last week, over two dozen donors, many of them real estate developers, have donated to a new political action committee, “Everyone Deserves Safe Shelter.” The PAC has collected $320,000 so far to support a November ballot measure put forward by People for Portland, a nonprofit political group that is trying to expand the number of shelters in the region and make cities enforce the anti-camping laws they have on the books.
A judge is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of the ballot measure the group proposed. Lawyers for Metro, the regional land use government, have said the proposed measure does not pass constitutional muster.
Real estate firm Killian Pacific is one of the new committee’s biggest donors, with a $50,000 donation to support the push for more shelters. That donation comes as the company sues to stop a shelter in its backyard.
Killian Pacific filed a lawsuit against Multnomah County last month over the location of a women’s shelter on the Central Eastside, which was in the center of a cluster of five office buildings they own. The firm contended that Multnomah County officials bungled the public engagement process and defied zoning rules with a shelter that would sink the company’s millions of dollars in investments in the area.
Adam Tyler, the president of the firm, said at the time he agreed with the call to build more shelters to address the region’s homeless crisis but believed the industrial Eastside was the wrong area and would isolate people experiencing homelessness from needed social services.
Killian Pacific is one of three entities that have cut $50,000 checks to the PAC supporting People for Portland’s ballot measure. The measure seeks to redirect the bulk of the money generated from a new tax on affluent Portland-area residents away from services to help people stay in their home — rent support, addiction treatment, mental health services — and toward emergency shelter. The ballot measure would also require governments in the Portland region to enforce public camping bans to receive the homeless services money.
Voters in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties created the tax in 2020. The measure was championed by a coalition of business groups, nonprofits, and elected leaders collectively known as HereTogether.
Angela Martin, the co-director of Here Together, said Killian Pacific’s significant donation to the campaign raised “red flags” about the firm’s motivations.
“Considering all the billboards and ads calling for urgency to open shelters, it’s baffling that one of the People for Portland’s largest donors filed a legal action protesting a women-only shelter opening in their neighborhood,” Martin said in a statement. “A more accurate name for People for Portland’s new PAC would be ‘Everyone Deserves Safe Shelter Somewhere Else.’”
Tyler, the head of Killian Pacific, said in an email he had contributed because he believed the ballot measure would create short-term emergency shelter solutions and keep public spaces safe. He noted he supported the proposed shelter county officials were building as an emergency temporary space for people living outdoors, but did not feel it was a viable long-term solution.
Attorneys for Metro have rejected People for Portland’s ballot measure twice. Metro lawyer Carrie MacLaren said the wording and the intent of the measure violated the Oregon Constitution.
People for Portland organizers appealed the decision to the Multnomah County Circuit Court, slamming Metro’s analysis as “flatly contrary to Oregon law” and accusing the agency of trying to run out the clock.
Dan Lavey, the political strategist for the campaign, said the new PAC was a sign People for Portland would not wait around for a judge’s ruling to act.
“In the face of obstruction by Metro, our campaign is moving ahead to prioritize shelters and end deadly camping on our streets,” he said. “These first contributions are a powerful sign of citizens stepping forward to change the failed policies being stubbornly pushed by politicians out of touch with the people they represent.”
It’s the second business-backed PAC to spring up in Portland this month. A group of developers and real estate interests has also pumped money into a new committee called Portland United. Organizers of that group say they plan to spend $700,000 to support city council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky, a centrist running against Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, and reelect Commissioner Dan Ryan, who faces a challenger from the left. The group has, so far, reported 18 donations totaling over $220,000, largely from real estate developers.