Portland city commissioners' recent actions regarding the homeless and possible redevelopment of Old Town might appear heavy-handed or even irresponsible.
But upon finer examination, we believe citizens will recognize there is some sense to the city's strategy.
Commissioner Erik Sten brought renewed attention to Old Town recently when he met with neighborhood residents and merchants and asked them to accept a new homeless access center in their midst.
Unfortunately, Sten clumsily dangled the prospect of Old Town's receiving $300 million to $400 million in urban renewal dollars in return for accepting the access center.
Sten also issued what some people perceived as a threat - that the city might not close the nearby Grove Hotel if the access center doesn't open.
The hotel is the one featured on the front page of Tuesday's Portland Tribune and perhaps the most appalling example of 'housing' that exists in this city. As detailed in the story by reporter Chris Lydgate, the homeless, disabled and mentally ill people who live at the Grove must endure filth, vermin, bedbugs, lice and fire hazards.
Residents have no other options
Considering that the Grove Hotel recently was purchased by the city and turned over to the Portland Housing Authority, citizens might question why the city doesn't immediately shut down the place.
Commissioner Randy Leonard led the charge to buy the Grove for $1.8 million, and he supports the city renovating the dump at costs that could hit another $3.2 million.
While it remains to be seen whether this would turn out to be a wise investment, Leonard can justify the actions on both humanitarian and strategic grounds.
The human side doesn't require much explanation. The people who live at the Grove have problems so severe that they literally have nowhere to go if the hotel is closed.
Rather than razing the structure, the housing authority is bringing the hotel - room by room - up to minimal sanitary and safety standards.
Leave Grove out of the politics
Renovating the Grove is a temporary patch. And that's where the longer-term strategy comes into play, including expanding the thriving River District's urban renewal boundaries to include Old Town.
That would allow urban renewal dollars generated by development of the River District to address blighted areas in Old Town.
One piece of blight that ought to disappear quickly is the Grove. But before the site can be resold and redeveloped, Grove residents need a better place to live. Sten's proposal is to place housing above the homeless access center, which also would move Old Town's street population off the sidewalks.
When considered in this larger context, the link between the Grove, the access center and urban renewal is logical. But Sten has done a very poor job of explaining the connections and has left the impression that he's willing to use the Grove as a pawn in a political game.
We believe Old Town should be included in an expanded renewal district, and we believe a homeless center, if well-constructed and well-managed, would be an improvement over the current handling of the homeless population in Old Town.
The Grove and its residents, however, should not be part of any political deal making. The city and housing authority should state clearly their intention to quickly provide other, better housing alternatives - no matter what happens with urban renewal or the homeless access center.
Portland Tribune editorial board
• Steve Clark- president, Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers Inc.
• Mark Garber - executive editor, Community Newspapers Inc.
• Dwight Jaynes - editor, Portland Tribune