IN A SURPRISING turnabout, just weeks after hitting reset in the long impasse over Right 2 Dream Too, city officials this week will anoint a seemingly major breakthrough in the homeless rest area's quest for a new home.
The Pearl District developers fighting R2DToo's move to a city-owned lot beneath the Broadway Bridge have agreed to buy that land for $142,000—and then pay R2DToo nearly $850,000 more to move somewhere, anywhere else.
And in an essential promise, the city has put in writing a vow not to boot R2DToo from its current home, at NW 4th and Burnside, until it "finds a suitable alternate site" for relocation.
The transaction was announced just before snow and ice buried the region on Thursday, February 6, underlining the valuable role a sanctioned, thriving tent shelter can play in the city's safety net.
R2DToo's board tentatively approved the proposal over the weekend, Board President Ibrahim Mubarak announced Monday, February 10, on OPB's Think Out Loud. The Portland Development Commission (PDC) and Portland City Council are expected to sign off Wednesday, February 12.
The PDC must formally approve the sale to the Pearl group, whose interest in the lot was first reported by the Mercury. The council will approve an ordinance accepting the additional money for R2DToo and detailing how that money can be spent. Nothing in the deal limits where R2DToo can move. A real estate broker, working on a $1,000 contract, is working to find potential sites within a 1.5-mile radius of the Portland Building.
"It's been quick for me and them," Commissioner Amanda Fritz told reporters.
But she was emphatic that the arrangement involved "no taxpayer money," something expressed just as strongly by Mayor Charlie Hales' office and Mubarak. Mubarak says he wrestled with the offer before embracing it.
"I'm not going to say no to it, when we can do something to help people," Mubarak says. "It's good they are doing this. And I hope they are doing this to bring out their humanitarian spirit, and not just doing it like capitalists do, to just get rid of things and pay people off."
The deal comes amid reports of campsite sweeps by cops downtown and in the Central Eastside this winter, something R2DToo has been talking over with the police. It lands days after the announcement of a police/business effort regarding homelessness, awkwardly named "Prosper Portland."
And it comes during renewed focus on the future of Old Town. The PDC is looking to buy the rest area's current site at NW 4th and Burnside, and it just announced another stab at redeveloping the empty Grove Hotel across from the rest area on NW 4th.
In a city where nearly 1,900 people sleep outside every night, Fritz said she thinks Right 2 Dream Too is "here to stay."
Right 2 Dream Too opened in October 2011. It hosts 100 people every night who might have nowhere else to go for a safe night's sleep. It also serves as a community for homeless Portlanders looking to transition out of what can be a painfully lonely existence, especially when it's compounded by mental illness or addiction.
"We don't have anywhere where it's legal for people to be on the streets and sleeping," Fritz says. "We should think of it as being here for as long as people need it."
The hunt for a new home for R2DToo has been on for months. Fritz, upon taking over the Portland Bureau of Development Services, spent last summer looking for a new spot as part of an effort to settle a lawsuit challenging some $20,000-plus in code fines.
The Pearl lot she found, called Lot 7, was her third choice of government-owned properties. Soon after she announced the deal and a legal settlement in late August, Pearl neighbors and developers, led by political bigshots Dike Dame and Homer Williams, put on a full-court press to kill it.
They got a break in October after persuading Hales, during an occasionally nasty city council hearing, to let them take a stab at finding a location. The Pearl group, working with land-use attorneys, also filed a preemptive appeal of any move to Lot 7 with the state's Land Use Board of Appeals.
The money due to help Right 2 Dream Too could be used to lease or buy, and then improve, the right piece of property. If any money's left over, it will be set aside to help the homeless. And while no one would commit to something so far ahead, it could even be used for another site like R2DToo.
"Of course we would try to find another lot," Mubarak says. "There should be four [sites like Right 2 Dream Too in Portland]."