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Council leans toward extending housing emergency, discusses homeless camp ruling

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - Questions about opening a homeless camp at Terminal 1 surfaced when the City Council discussed extending its Housing State of Emergency on Wednesday.A state ruling that challenged where Portland can locate homeless shelters dominated much of the discussion when the City Council considered extending the Housing State of Emergency on Wednesday.

The council appears ready to support extending the emergency declaration for another year, but some members wondered about the implications of a Monday ruling by the state Land Use Board of Appeals that says a homeless camp in Old Town cannot be relocated to city-owned industrial property in Southeast Portland. The vote is scheduled for next week.

LUBA ruled that mass shelters are not allowed on industrial property, blocking the move of the Right 2 Dream Too homeless camp to a parcel at Southeast Third Avenue and Harrison Street. Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz asked whether that could prevent the opening of a homeless shelter in a vacant warehouse on Terminal 1, which was approved by a 3 to 2 vote of the council on Aug. 10. Industrial businesses in the Portland harbor and others have filed notice they will challenge it before LUBA, too.

Fritz was concerned that the LUBA ruling seemed to say no changes could be made for a temporary shelter at Terminal 1, meaning the homeless could only be served by portable toilets and other non-permanent facilities there, if it survives its own challenge.

“We should want a holistic solution to homelessness,” Fritz said.

Overall, however, the council seemed to think the state of emergency that suspends zoning codes for homeless camps and shelters has been mostly beneficial. It was adopted last October and has been used to help open approximately 475 new shelter beds, the council was told.

Mayor Charlie Hales, who originally requested a three-year extension, supported the one-year proposal, saying the city faces an unprecedented housing crisis caused by a limited supply of available homes and approximately 1,000 more people moving to town every month.

“It’s a national crisis, but particularly acute on the West Coast and in our city,” Hales said, testifying by phone from vacation.

The hearing occurred as new reports showed Portland continues to have some of the highest housing costs in the country.

Portland had the biggest home sale price increase in the nation in June — 12.6 percent compared to the previous year, according to the Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released last Tuesday. That is more than twice as fast as the 5.1 percent for all 20 cities. The closest city was Seattle, with an 11 percent increase.

And according to the Zumper apartment service firm, Portland had the 15th highest apartment rents in the country in August. While the national median rent for one- and two-bedroom apartments fell last month, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Portland held steady at $1,400 and the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased 0.06 percent to $1,670.