Pre-displaced low-income seniors, persons with disabilities, and other tenants (including those with Section 8 Vouchers) now priced out of market-rate housing are finding themselves just days, weeks, or months away from joining the ranks of Portland’s growing homeless population.
Pamela Gillis shares her experience with time running out, being unable to find affordable replacement housing with her Clackamas County Section 8 Voucher.
Tenants are exhausted and weary from months of writing appeal letters to city commissioners, giving testimony before the City Council, listening to Mayor Hales officially declare a Housing State of Emergency, and searching every area of Portland metro for available and affordable replacement housing with zero results.
Displaced tenants are now calling for an immediate, city-wide, community Emergency Response.
We are calling on local businesses, civic and cultural groups, city leaders, tenant organizations, faith communities, educational institutions, and social service providers; we are appealing to the property owners who have contributed to the problem; and we are calling on the public at large to stand together with fellow community members in solidarity and collaboration, focusing on the immediate housing needs of tenants on the verge of homelessness.
Creating a Displaced Tenants Emergency Task Force
Outline of a Displaced Tenants Emergency Plan to include five essential components:
1. Tenant Registry
Establish a Tenant Database.
2. Temporary Emergency Housing
Due to the overwhelming demand, the majority of low-income housing units set aside for low-wage earners, low-/fixed-income veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities are already occupied. Displaced tenants are left with 18-month to 5-year waiting lists. Winter is coming soon and families with children cannot wait out in the cold in hopes of a few apartment units opening up here and there or for a handful of developers to complete one or two more affordable housing projects in spring of 2016.
Short-term Alternative Housing Options
Provide short-term alternative housing options, for example, convert vacant buildings into temporary shelters using experienced agencies like the Red Cross to implement emergency service models and best service delivery modalities. In Vancouver, Washington, some church communities have banded together to offer shelter and other services to their houseless population.
3. A Displaced Tenants Emergency Fund
Establish a Displaced Tenants Emergency Fund, with the proceeds to be issued directly to heads of households for displacement and relocation expenses (belongings storage, pet shelter, deposits and moving expenses) and kept in escrow until needed and/or long-term housing is secured.
4. Section 8 Voucher Accommodations
Considering that tenants are placed on low-income housing wait-lists for 18 months on average in this high-demand crisis market, extend the voucher use limits beyond the 120-day to 6-month limit to allow enough time for displaced tenants to acquire affordable replacement housing and not be forced to relinquish their vouchers.
5. Priority Status
Give priority status to families with children, disabled persons, seniors, veterans, and persons on hospice. Prioritize on this very vulnerable population on wait-lists and access to resources.
Tenants losing their homes with no available options are very distressed asking, “Where are we supposed to go?”
We appreciate the gesture of support offered by our City Council, a yes vote on a Declaration of Emergency, stating “Housing is our city’s number one issue“ and giving their approval on a 90-day notification for rent increases above 5%.
However, these notifications and declarations bring no immediate relief to tenants now financially displaced with nowhere to go.
Commissioner Nick Fish admitted, “We know this is not enough and we need to do more.”
We are inviting to our cause members of our community who care about the lives of their neighbors and are willing to give of their time and offer their skills, knowledge, resources, expertise, and creativity.
Whatever temporary means of relief we can generate in this emergency environment, we know it will likely not be ideal. However, we feel it is not acceptable to turn our heads and do nothing.
Offering some basic relief will be far better than leaving seniors and disabled persons with significant health challenges and families with children to sleep outdoors, on Portland streets, in parks, and in parking lots in the bitter cold of winter.
Local shelters are already over-crowded, we can expect this next wave of rent-hike casualties will only add increased competition for these very limited resources.
For agencies, communities, and city leaders to declare an emergency but then fail to engage in rigorous emergency planning to meet the needs of those directly affected by this life-threatening crisis would be grossly irresponsible.
We have made numerous requests to city officials, offering suggestions and possible solutions. We have shared our stories under the constraints of their council chamber 2-minute clock cutting us off in mid sentence. We have listened to them tell us “We don’t have any answers” and watched them turn their head away in silence when asked directly, “Are you going to just let people end up in the street?”
The current cop-out is, “We don’t have enough money to fix the problem.”
The City of Portland announced on October 22nd their plans to spend $200 million dollars on renovations for the Portland Building. Just two weeks ago, SE community members raised $900,000 to save a few trees from destruction.
In her article “No place to Call Home“, Sarah Roth (a reporter with KGW News) clearly outlined the proposed funding to be made available by the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and the Portland Housing Bureau, totaling around $156 million to build more affordable housing.
These funds, however, are designated for long-term projects, which is good — but what are city officials doing to address the immediate needs of tenants whose lives are being put in jeopardy right now?
Displaced tenants can’t hang out on the streets for 1-2 years for new housing projects to be completed. Many seniors, women, children, and disabled people will not survive such extreme conditions.
So let’s come out of our silos, think creatively, focus on what we can do right now, and work together to generate practical emergency measures that will bring some level of temporary shelter, safety, and community support to the displaced citizens of Portland.