PORTLAND, Ore. – As the housing crisis in Portland grows, Mayor Charlie Hales has announced a State of Emergency for housing and homelessness in the city.
Many Portland residents are seeing rent spikes and an extremely tight rental market. At the same time, the number of homeless people living on city streets remains high.
Hales said Wednesday that he asked the city council to vote on a declaration of emergency, which would allow city leaders to push through measures to protect Portland's vulnerable residents. The council will discuss the proposal Oct. 4.
"This declaration will allow us to work with our partners, Multnomah County, Home Forward, the State of Oregon and nonprofits to move quickly on several fronts," Hales said.
According to a release from the mayor's office, the State of Emergency would allow the city to:
- Waive zoning codes
- Convert city-owned buildings into shelters
- Work with Governor Brown to waive portions of state building codes so that more buildings can be converted into shelters
- Build permanent housing for people served by a soon-to-be-built psychiatric emergency center in Portland
"When I came into office, the single-night count of homeless told us we had 1,800 Portlanders sleeping unsheltered. That same count, two years later, barely budged. And yet we had spent millions of dollars and countless staff time," Hales said. "We've tried slow-and-steady. We've tried by-the-book. It's time to add the tools we currently lack."
Hales said his goals include housing all homeless veterans and women, and provide housing for mentally ill people. He is considering dozens of city-owned buildings for homeless shelters, and hopes to have some up an running by Jan. 1.
"Winter is coming," he said. "The time to act is now."
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said homelessness and the housing crisis are pressing problems, but called for a clear plan from the mayor's office.
"Any further response to this proposal from Multnomah County will require specific action steps coupled with a clear financial commitment from the mayor," she said.
Hales also mentioned protecting renters, but said rent control is not something he can legally enact as part of the State of Emergency.
The mayor's announcement comes on the heels of Housing Bureau Commissioner Dan Saltzman's call for new protections for renters. Saltzman proposed that tenants should have more notice for "no-cause evictions" and rent increases.
The housing crisis is likely to be a major talking point in the upcoming mayor's race. Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler announced his candidacy earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Wheeler's campaign questioned the timing of Hales' announcement.
"Ted Wheeler has said we have a full-blown crisis on the streets of our city and we are glad that after three years in office Charlie Hales is finally acknowledging that fact. Helping get people off the streets will require aggressive leadership and an all-hands-on deck approach that includes access to emergency shelter, mental health care, addiction treatment, and transitional housing. We need a mayor that will address the major problems facing the city every year - not just during an election year," said consultant Jack Weigler.
Hales denied this was politically motivated.
"If I was seeking to be politically popular, trying to site more homeless shelters is probably not what I would pick," he said.
Mayor Hales has not yet announced whether he is seeking reelection.