Lasting investments, not stop-gap measures, needed on homelessness

Dr. Marisa Zapata, associate professor of land use planning at Portland State University and director of the Homelessness Research & Action Collaborative, wrote:

“We need investments that last and not stop-gap measures that sometimes cost more than solutions. For instance, some of the city-sanctioned camps cost more per night than rent vouchers or permanent supportive housing, according to county data. And camps could take just as long to come online as affordable housing.”

Read the complete article at The Oregonian / Oregon Live.


Introducing Portland Turnkey: Quick Housing + Land-banking

Today we are proposing an actionable plan to house 650 unsheltered Portlanders within six months, in already-built motels and existing housing, which can be quickly converted into the supported permanent housing that people need and want.

Here are the full details.

  • Short Term Objective: open up 240 units for 500-650 people within 6 months
  • Long Term Objective: land banking to build affordable housing, permanent supportive services
  • Budget ask: $33M
  • Funding: City funding for land banking and acquisition. Ongoing operating costs include Metro Support Services Funds via Joint Office of Homeless Services

Cost per unit:

Based on engagement with local real estate professionals, the average per-unit cost of buildings available today range from $120K-135K per unit. This includes land, community rooms and office space that can be used for programming and staff. It also assumes the furnishing will stay with the building (beds & linens, bed frames, dressers, curtains, washers/dryers, tables & chairs, refrigerators, microwaves & other small appliances – all things that would otherwise have to be purchased with additional funding on top of funding for the property if developing new housing)

Hotel/Motel land and building acquisitions in Portland (examples)

  • SE Motel $10.5m purchase for 84 units + 1.6 acres land
  • NE Motel: $10.5m purchase for 78 units + parking lot
  • NE Hotel #2: $12.5m purchase for 98 units + parking lot

Short-term: # people housed

  • SE Motel: 150-175 people (Good design for both singles and families.)
  • NE Motel: 100-125 (Good design for single adults or couples.)
  • NE Hotel #2: 300-325 (Good design for families.)

Kinds of models

  • Transitional Housing – requires some renovation and onsite staff
  • Permanent Supportive Housing – requires more renovation and onsite staff
  • Short-term shelter – 24-hour, on-site staff, little renovation. Needs commercial kitchen


Portland Turnkey would build on the accumulated knowledge of State of Oregon’s Project Turnkey

Project Turnkey 1.0:

  • Funded with $65 M from state legislature Nov 2020 for people displaced by fires + people who were already homeless.
  • Grants/projects managed by Oregon Community Foundation.
  • 19 buildings around the state, averaged $87,700 a unit, 865 units.
  • Lesson from report: “Such efforts can succeed in months instead of years, and bold, strategic risk-taking pays off.”
  • Local example: River Haven, a Central City Concern site, closed on a property in June 2021 and opened to the first wave of residents in September 2021 – 3 month were needed for hiring staff and establishing referral agreements to fill the units.

Project Turnkey 2.0:

  • $50M available statewide.
  • No guarantee a Portland project would be funded.


Housing vs shelter

Compared to all the shelter options, housing choices are not only more humane, they are also a more effective use of tax payer dollars, and they lead to more permanent housing for the homeless.

Here is a calculator to evaluate the costs of any combination of shelter and housing options:

All cost data are from “Portland homelessness: Mayor Ted Wheeler, interest groups promote competing ideas to lessen crisisThe Oregonian, Mar. 19, 2022.

When shelters are the only offering, the homeless will still be homeless at the end of their stay in shelters. We should prioritize housing first. It is the wiser investment, and it leads to better outcomes for everyone.

UPDATE May 7: here is a one-pager with more details and some example scenarios.


Housing First is proven

“A home should be the secure foundation that makes it easier to solve your problems.”   Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation

Housing First is an approach to quickly connect people experiencing homelessness to permanent housing without preconditions or barriers such as sobriety, treatment, or service participation requirements. Supportive services are offered to maximize housing stability and prevent returns to homelessness. The model was popularized by Sam Tsemberis and Pathways to Housing in New York in the 1990s.

Real-world data shows Housing First participants experience higher levels of housing retention and use fewer emergency and criminal justice services. This in turn results in cost savings in emergency room visits, inpatient hospitalizations, and the criminal justice system.

For more information and examples of Housing First in action:

  • This resource page from the Homelessness Research and Action Collaborative at PSU has links to many research papers and reports on Housing First.
  • This report from The Guardian describes the results of a Housing First policy in Helsinki, Finland.  Since their 2008 launch, the number of long-term homeless people has decreased by more than a third, and the number of people sleeping outside is now essentially zero. Today this city of 650,000 people needs only one 50-bed shelter.

Webinar on master leasing

Please join the 3,000 Challenge PDX for a conversation on April 14th at 5:30 PM with a coalition of nonprofit social services providers looking to partner with landlords to alleviate our housing crisis.

We will be exploring an innovative way to house people experiencing homelessness: master leasing. We will explore the benefits of master leasing for landlords and hear from landlords who are currently master leasing to nonprofit organizations. We will explore some possible new incentives for landlords to participate. We want to hear your questions and ideas, directly from you.

This webinar is the first in a series that will explore the concept of master leasing. Sign up to attend at this link.


We are not alone!

In New York, The Coalition for the Homeless (CFH) is calling for the governor of NY State and mayor of NY City to ramp up housing and safer shelters, not police sweeps.

CFH finds that

affordable housing production has lagged population growth, leaving about a half million households with incomes below $30,000 at risk of homelessness.

Continue reading

Announcing the 3,000 Challenge

We announce the 3,000 Challenge in 2022. We invite our leaders and the community to join us in quickly creating safe, healing spaces for people that meet their diverse needs and honor their dignity and autonomy.

Solutions must include permanent housing, and the access to that housing must promote racial equity and work to eliminate racial disparities in homelessness, even as we work to end homelessness for everyone. Some approaches are longer term than others, but all aim for a locked door that allows a person privacy and autonomy. Strategies must address the root causes of homelessness by providing rapid access to permanent housing and a continuum of services and supports. For many, housing may be enough to end their homelessness, while for others, a continuum of care must be made available to support healing and recovery.

All of these options must be non-coercive: people must be free to choose whether they participate in any of these options, and options must not be connected to bans and sweeps.

We must explore housing solutions available now – many of which cost less and happen faster than mass shelters.

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