Celebrating an expanded shelter for St. Johns
Sometimes you can fight City Hall and win especially if youre doing good at the right time.
Community of Hope, a nonprofit homeless shelter for women and children in St. Johns, celebrated the completion of an expansion project on Thursday. It was expanded from five to eight bedrooms and now has four indoor showers, a laundry room, a renovated kitchen, two community rooms and a fire suppression sprinkler system. The capacity has been increased from 15 to 34 people.
Its more than a shelter now. Its a home where women and children in crisis can get settled and receive the help they need to get back on their feet, shelter director Linda Jo Devlaeminck said at the ceremony.
A former client who stayed at the shelter for two months last year was impressed with the inmprovements.
Im jealous, its so nice, said Lindsey, who credits her stay there with being able to find her own home. I received so much help here.
But the fate of the project was uncertain for months after the small Christian-based organization slowly discovered it would to pay more than $80,000 in permit fees, system development charges (SDC) and city required improvements all on top of a project that is estimated to cost only around $135,000 for labor and materials, plus an additional $65,000 in donated labor and materials.
In other words, the city costs would have increased the out-of-pocket cost of the project by 60 percent, making it virtually impossible for the small organization to complete it.
There were a lot of obstacles to overcome, Devlaeminck said.
But, with the support of a charitable foundation of home builders assisting with the project, the Community of Hope prevailed. It eventually won almost $45,000 in fee reductions and requirement waivers, reducing its city mandated costs to a more manageable $32,000 or so, with $3,000 still pending.
We were shocked by how many fees and additional costs Portland imposes on such projects. But more than that, no single person was in charge of all of them, and we had to go to many different bureaus to secure the waivers we got, says Ken Cowdery, director of the Home Builders Foundation, a charitable arm of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland that helped with the project. It was created specifically to support such projects, usually in smaller cities in the region.
Along the way, the organization and foundation also helped persuade Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman to ask the City Council to expand an existing SDC waiver program for affordable housing projects to include shelters owned and operated by nonprofit organizations. The council unanimously approved the proposal on Sept. 7, a little more than three weeks before the Community of Hope celebrated its expanded shelter.
Now all future shelters will have their charges waived, Devlaeminck said.
Gentrification in St. Johns
The Community of Hope is a program of AllOne Community Services, a North Portland nonprofit organization. It supports the Church of North Portland, a loose-knit coalition of dozens of churches in the area. The idea of opening the shelter came about a few years ago after a survey conducted by the organization revealed there were no transitional shelters in the St. Johns area, despite a growing number of people being displaced from their homes because of increasing housing costs.
Some Portlanders may think of St. Johns as a low-income area, but it is rapidly gentrifying, Devlaeminck says.
The shelter originally opened as an overnight refuge in the Red Sea Church, which owns the building, across the street. But it quickly became apparent that only offering a place to sleep was not meeting the areas needs, Devlaeminck says. Thats when it moved across the street as a 24-hour shelter with separate bedrooms, a kitchen and pantry, an indoor recreation area and an office for Devlaeminck, the sole employee.
According to city records, the two-story building originally was built as a church in 1953. It was subsequently used as a Sunday school and small business cooperative. Two years ago, the Community of Hope requested and received a temporary permit from the city to house up to 15 people. When the organization thought about expanding the shelter last year, it connected with the Home Builders Foundation. Started in 1997, the foundation has a shelter development program that helps nonprofit organizations maintain and upgrade their facilities. It already has contributed well over $1 million in donated supplies and services to numerous projects in the region.
Cowdery says that the Community of Hope is typical of many nonprofit shelter providers in the region. They usually operate on small budgets with limited staff out of converted buildings, including houses. The populations they serve include homeless singles, families with children, unaccompanied youth, and women and children experiencing domestic violence.
Devlaeminck says the organization quickly saw the need to enlarge the shelters capacity. The Home Builders Foundation helped prepare an expansion that included the indoor showers. Since it first opened, showers were only available in a mobile facility in the parking lot.
With plans in hand, Devlaeminck began going through the Portland approval project and was taken aback by the costs. They included $4,289 for a mandatory pre-application conference with the Bureau of Development Services in 2015, $2,587 for a Type 2 land use adjustment review in 2015, and $9,610 for a Type 3 conditional use review, also in 2015.
She also learned about costly building requirements imposed by various bureaus, only one of which seemed essential. That was $9,785 for a new water line for an indoor fire sprinkler system. Others seemed unnecessary, such as an estimated $10,000 to move a fire hydrant, $6,000 for a commercial stove hood, $3,593 to install a storm drain under the Dumpster, and $5,000 to widen the sidewalk behind the building that dead ends at an adjoining neighbors property line.
By the beginning of this year, Devlaeminck and Cowdrey began seeking partial or full waivers for the fees, charges and requirements. To support their requests, they pointed to the Housing State of Emergency that the council declared last October. It was done in part to suspend zoning restrictions to hurry the construction of additional shelters and affordable housing projects. They won the support of Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau.
The Portland Tribune first reported on the projects struggles in March. Two months later, at Saltzmans request, the council approved a resolution directing the housing bureau, the Bureau of Development Services, and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to develop a proposal to simplify regulations, remove regulatory obstacles, and expedite processes for land-use reviews and permits for affordable housing projects, mass shelters, and short-term housing.
But even then, some waiver requests were granted and some werent. For example, the Bureau of Environmental Services slashed its SDC from $12,718.04 to just $280. But the Bureau of Development Service collected most of its fees. And the Portland Water Bureau refused to cut its $145 fee to review the building plans.
The organization had better luck with the code requirements. Although it paid the full $9,785 for the new water line, an estimated $24,593 worth of non-essential projects were dropped, including widening the sidewalk.
Because of the unexpected city costs and the time spent trying to reduce them instead of fundraising for the project, the organization scaled it back by dropping such non-essential work as replacing the exterior siding. But in the end, the project was completed a month after the council extended its housing emergency for another year, further proof that the expansion was worth city support.
At the opening ceremony, Devlaeminck thanked some of the 32 vendors and 20 donors to the project. They included: the Home Builders Foundation, which donated $35,000 and helped round up the volunteer contractors; Viking Fire Protection, which donated the materials and labor for the indoor sprinkler system past the new water line; and California Closets, a high-end closet company that donated closets for all the new and renovated bedrooms.
The reason we did this is for the families that will be moving in after the final inspections. All of the bedrooms are already accounted for, Devlaeminck said.