Portland may allow mass homeless shelters in all city zones
City Hall will consider rewriting the rules in hopes of moving more Portlanders off the streets and into mass shelters, outdoor villages and transitional housing.
The proposed Shelter to Housing Continuum code update would legalize some housing options that are already commonplace — such as permanently living in a recreational vehicle parked off-street — and streamline the regulations for others, like group living accommodations.
But the changes will only take effect if approved by a vote of the City Council next year.
It matters because the legal foundation for many of the city's shelters is the Housing Emergency formally declared by the city in 2015, which will expire on April 4 of next year unless the council opts to extend it again.
"The problem of people experiencing homelessness is only going to grow," said Eden Dabbs, spokeswoman for the Planning and Sustainability bureau. "We're really trying to use the zoning code and map as a tool to better serve our community."
Among the key changes, the temporary operation of an outdoor or mass shelter would be allowed for up to 180 days in all zones of the city without a conditional use permit or emergency declaration. The council would also be allowed to declare a "shelter shortage" during which the 180-day limit would not apply.
Permanent shelter facilities will still be allowed, but generally require a permit.
The city's crop of lawful outdoor shelters, like Kenton Women's Village or Right 2 Dream Too, are currently permitted by council declarations or site-specific agreements. The new rules would formalize the process for creating such makeshifts villages and nix some building review and pedestrian circulation requirements.
"It's not necessarily authorizing a group of people to self-organize and camp on land. They would still need to find some sort of entity that would be a sponsor," such as a nonprofit or the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, said BPS principal planner Eric Engstrom.
The proposed draft increases the maximum number of beds in traditional mass shelters to 200 beds in some commercial zones without a conditional use permit and bumps up the maximum number of residents for village-style outdoor shelters to 40 persons in certain zones without the permit. The villages will not be permitted in areas classified as open space.
The regulations would eliminate the conditional permit required for post-incarceration halfway houses and nixes rules that distinguish between families living in "households" and unrelated people in "group living" situations — such as micro-apartments or care facilities that at present require the permit.
"The current code is not particularly enforceable," said Engstrom. "We don't regularly test people's blood to see whether they're related."
The proposed regs would permanently legalize RV occupancy and of wheel-mounted tiny homes, counting each against the lot limit for accessory dwelling units. Portlanders are currently limited to one ADU per lot, though large lots will be allowed more when the Residential Infill Project takes effect in summer 2021.
While it is technically illegal to live in a recreational vehicle parked on a Portland residential lot, the Bureau of Development Services has not enforced this rule since 2017.
Don Mazziotti, co-founder and managing director of the Oregon Harbor of Hope, is largely in favor of the proposal, though he warns that thousands of renters may end up homeless when the current eviction moratorium ends.
"Large encampments ought to be planned for now, not in January 2020 as evictions proceed," he said.
How to comment
The Planning and Sustainability Commission will consider public feedback, make amendments and potentially pass the Shelter to Housing Continuum project onto the City Council for further public hearings.
Testimony will be heard during commission meetings at 12 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 5 p.m. on Dec. 15.
Submit written testimony via the Portland Map App or by mail.
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