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Homeless shelter proposal breaks unwritten City Council rule


PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bureau of Environmental Services property manager Eli Callison helps prepare the bureau-owned warehouse that sits at Terminal 1 for sale.The homeless crisis has caused an unwritten rule of the City Council to be broken.

Council members usually do not interfere with the operation of bureaus overseen by other members. But Commissioner Dan Saltzman has proposed opening a homeless shelter in a vacant 68,000-square-foot warehouse owned by the Bureau of Environmental Service (BES) over the objections of its commissioner, Nick Fish.

Adding to the breach of protocol, Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau, unveiled the proposal mere days before BES was scheduled to accept bids for the sale of the warehouse.

Fish has been overseeing the lengthy surplus sale process previously approved by the council, and has been expecting to sell the former Terminal 1 site for millions of dollars that can be used to reduce the size of future BES rate increases.

But last week, Saltzman let it be known he will ask the council on Aug. 10 to allow the housing bureau to lease the property and contract with a nonprofit social service agency to shelter hundreds of homeless people in it for 18 months. And Saltzman appears to have the votes to do it. Both Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick are supportive of the idea, adding up to a majority of the council.

PORTLAMND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - The City Council will be asked to use this empty warehouse on the former Terminal 1 site as a homeless shelter.The idea of using the property for homeless services was first proposed months ago by local developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame, who said it would be a suitable location for a large residential multi-service center similar to one in San Antonio. They estimated the project could cost $100 million, with approximately half the money coming from the private sector. Saltzman says his proposal is a smaller step in that direction.

The 14-acre property is currently zoned industrial. It was purchased from the Port of Portland by BES to serve as a staging ground for the Big Pipe project to reduce combined sewer overflows into the Willamette River. Fish says the zoning should stay industrial and be used by the buyer to create family wage jobs. Saltzman says the council should change the zone to allow the shelter, which is currently prohibited there.

As part of an ongoing civil lawsuit over BES and Water Bureau spending, a Multnomah Circuit Court judge has ruled ratepayer spending must be reasonably related to the primary missions of the bureaus.

John DiLorenzo, the lawyer representing the ratepayers in the suit, says leasing Terminal 1 to the housing bureau for a homeless shelter could be legal, however, because it has been declared surplus. But DiLorenzo says BES should charge the full market rate for the lease, otherwise ratepayers would be illegally subsidizing an unrelated use.