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Clackamas County board directs housing staff to proceed with finding new motel site for puchase as homeless shelter

Clackamas County is going back to the drawing board on its effort to purchase a motel with the intent of turning it into a transitional shelter for wildfire victims and previously homeless people.

In a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 2, the Board of County Commissioners directed housing staff to develop new options for potential properties within the county to use state funds made available by Project Turnkey. The board's direction follows two failed attempts — in Jennings Lodge and Estacada — to move forward with the due-diligence process and initiate a purchase-sale agreements.

Facing a June 30 deadline, Clackamas County Housing Authority staff were attempting to move quickly with the potential purchase of the Econo Lodge in Jennings Lodge, and subsequently the Red Fox Motel in Estacada. The potential purchases fell apart for separate reasons.

Roofing repairs were needed on the Jennings Lodge motel, and residents in Estacada showed vehement opposition to siting such a shelter in their backyard. Opposition from neighbors in Oak Lodge was also an issue, but only two community members there expressed their opposition when the county held an Econo Lodge public engagement session.

Project Turnkey was established last year by the Oregon Legislature with a $65 million allocation, $30 million of which was earmarked for counties and tribal communities affected by the 2020 wildfires for the purpose of acquiring motels/hotels for use as non-congregate shelter for people experiencing houselessness. The program is administered by the Oregon Community Foundation, and the funds have an expiration date of June 30, at which time any unused dollars will revert back to the legislature.

At Tuesday's board policy session, Housing Authority Director Jill Smith and Tom Kemper, a consultant for the Oregon Community Foundation, gave the commissioners an update on where the county's application stands, including that the county has been preliminarily approved for funding of around $3 million.

Kemper told commissioners that the program expects to fund seven or eight projects varying in price from $1.5 million to $7.9 million. Kemper said that applications will be accepted on somewhat of a first-come, first-served basis, but also based on whether they meet certain requirements imposed by the legislature. The state is looking to add approximately 500 units of non-congregate sheltering throughout fire-affected communities like Clackamas County, meaning each project would need to include about 50-60 units.

Commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to continue searching for a property that meets the Project Turnkey's requirements and report back to the board immediately before moving any further, as well as reaching out to the Clackamas County community and city council ifTootie Smith its within an incorporated area.

County Chair Tootie Smith stressed that engaging the community near any new site would be key moving forward.

"I would just like to clarify the motion that staff is clear that we do need to engage in the community and/or jurisdictions as much as possible," she said. "We've already had two strikes on us. I don't want to be embarrassed again. I really don't, staff."

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