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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland was not able to shelter or house all the homeless in Portland during the first year of the housing emergency, inlcuding most of those moved off the Springwater Corridor. But officials say important steps were taken to create additional shelter beds and affordable housing projects in the future.How much did the City Council do to reduce homelessness and create more affordable housing since declaring a one-year housing state of emergency last October?

The obvious answer is, not nearly enough.

Thousands of people are living outdoors, in emergency shelters, and doubled up with friends and family members. But only 335 new city-backed affordable housing units opened in the past year. Portland also opened two temporary shelters, but they are both closed now.

Multnomah County more than offset those losses by opening two permanent shelters, although those added only around 250 new beds.

But city officials note the City Council took many less-visible steps to address the crisis. Those included approving renter protections, increasing renter assistance, and helping Multnomah County open its second new shelter in the Hansen Building in Northeast Portland, which it owns.

Other actions will result in a strong surge in the number of additional shelter beds and affordable housing units in the future, city officials say. They include better aligning services with Multnomah County, generating and committing tens of millions of additional dollars to new shelter and housing projects, placing a $258.4 million affordable housing measure on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and giving the private sector the opportunity to open a temporary homeless shelter at Terminal 1, followed by a larger permanent multi-service center if enough money is raised.

Largely as a result of these actions, the Portland Housing Bureau now has 1,995 affordable housing units in development, nearly six times the units opening in the year following the declaration of the emergency.

“The housing emergency helped create a sense of crisis that encouraged both the city and the county to dig deeply into their pockets. The additional spending will pay dividends for years to come,” says Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the housing bureau.

But many of the results will not be seen for years, because of the time it takes to site, plan, permit and build new shelters and affordable housing projects.

“I’m frustrated that it takes so long, but the pace of groundbreakings I’m going to is picking up,” Saltzman says.

Some homeless and affordable housing advocates complain the council has not done enough to address the immediate crisis.

For example, bookstore owner Chloe Eudaly, who is running against Commissioner Steve Novick in the Nov. 8 general election, has called for an immediate rent freeze and an end to no-fault evictions.

Recognizing the crisis is not over, the council recently extended the one-year housing emergency for a second year, until Oct. 7, 2017.

Prior initiatives fell short

The council has long supported homeless services and affordable housing projects. It has provided operating funds and construction assistance to nonprofits that serve the homeless and at-risk populations in Old Town and other parts of the city for many years. A major source of construction assistance has been urban renewal funds, where the council set aside 30 percent of the money for affordable housing.

But the council began admitting that its commitments were not enough several years ago, especially after it became clear that gentrification was pushing many longtime lower-income residents out of their homes.

In July 2014, the council and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners created A Home for Everyone, a joint initiative to better coordinate homeless and housing services, in partnership with Gresham and Home Forward, formerly called the Housing Authority of Portland. Then, in January 2015, eight months before declaring the housing emergency, the council approved a proposal from Hales to spend an additional $20 million in Interstate urban renewal funds to help keep residents in their homes and build more affordable housing in North and Northeast Portland.

But those steps proved inadequate. Rents and home prices spiked as the economy improved and more people moved into the region. The council declared a one-year housing emergency on Oct. 7, saying, “Portland’s ongoing economic recovery has had a significant impact on rental housing, resulting in a more than 30 percent increase in average rents over the last five years, consistently low vacancy rates between 2.6 percent and 3.2 percent over the last three years, and high occupancy rates.”

Efforts since emergency declared

Among other things, over the following year, the council:

n Increased to 90 days the required time landlords must give tenants for no-cause evictions and rent increases of more than 5 percent over a 12-month period, extensions later enacted as state law by the 2016 Oregon Legislature. The council also increased funding for rent vouchers and assistance.

n Successfully lobbied the 2016 Oregon Legislature for authority to impose a 1 percent construction excise tax to help fund affordable housing projects.

• Successfully lobbied the 2016 Oregon Legislature for authority to require new private housing projects to include affordable units in exchange for incentives to help offset the lost revenue.

• Approved $20 million in general fund dollars for affordable housing projects, matched by a $10 million commitment from Multnomah County.

• Increased the urban renewal “set aside” for affordable housing from 30 percent to 45 percent, estimated to generate an additional $66.7 million over the next decade.

• Created a new Joint Office of Homeless Services with Multnomah County to consolidate efforts and clarify the county is responsible for providing shelters, except for the one being planned at Terminal 1.

• Bought the Joyce Hotel to preserve and remodel one of the last inexpensive single-room-occupancy buildings in Portland.

• Streamlined rules for designing affordable housing projects in downtown and the Gateway Urban Renewal District to hasten the construction of new ones.

• Dedicated lodging taxes collected from short-term rentals such as Airbnb to affordable housing, invested $1 million in the Oregon Housing Acquisition Fund in partnership with the Network of Affordable Housing, and increased access to tax incentives for private affordable housing units in partnership with the county.

In April, the Portland Housing Bureau announced $61.6 million was available in local and federal affordable housing funds for new development, which could create more than 600 new units.

Some plans stumble

However, even Mayor Charlie Hales admits that not everything undertaken as part of the emergency has gone well.

In February, Hales announced six pilot programs intended to reduce homelessness and make living outside safer. Six months later, he ended the most controversial of them — Safe Sleep Guidelines intended to allow small groups of people to camp overnight on unused city properties. Hales said the guidelines created confusion and caused people to think camping had been legalized.

But three months later, complaints about outdoor camping are skyrocketing, jumping from around 250 a week to 370 between Oct. 3 and 9. Part of the increase may be related to Hales’ decision to clear hundreds of campers from the Springwater Corridor because of growing public safety and environmental problems they were creating. Hales admitted at the time the campers had nowhere else to go.

Five other pilot projects were continued, however, including sanitation and storage services for the homeless and the One Point Contact website and phone line where the camping complaints are being recorded (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-823-4000).

A review of hundreds of locations around the city for potential new sanctioned camps and shelters turned up only a handful that were properly zoned and did not have problems preventing them from being used.

Demand outpacing supply

A bigger issue is the inability of the city, county and others to quickly change the situation thought to be causing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis — the severe shortage of vacant rentals and existing homes for sale that are driving up housing costs.

At the end of August, the Zumper online rental service said Portland had the 15th-most-expensive rental market in the country. A few days later, the Zillow online rental service predicted Portland rents will increase 6 percent next year. And the Regional Multiple Listing Service just reported the average Portland-area home sales price in September jumped 10.4 percent over the previous year to $384,400, one of the biggest increases in the country.

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