Last week, Portland City Council might have set a speed record for shooting down one of Mayor Charlie Hales' ideas. No sooner had the mayor filed an ordinance to extend the city's housing "state of emergency" status by three years than commissioners began coming out against it.
"He's unlikely to be comfortable with a three-year extension," Sonia Schmanski, chief of staff for Commissioner Nick Fish, told the Mercury. "This is something of a surprise."
"Commissioner Novick is open to an extension, but three years seems too long," said Chris Warner, Commissioner Steve Novick's chief of staff.
Similar statements emerged from the offices of commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz.
Now, council is much more in tune, according to Fish. Hales' office has since introduced a new ordinance [PDF] that will extend the state of emergency by one year, not three. According to Fish, there's unanimity around that proposal.
"We’ve settled on a one-year extension with six months reporting," the commissioner said Tuesday, referencing a status report before council that the Portland Housing Bureau and county Joint Office of Homeless Services will be asked to give every six months. "I’m fine with that and I’m pleased there’s consensus."
Assuming Fish is correct about that consensus, it's easy to see why there's an appetite to extend the emergency. The designation allows officials to overlook zoning rules when trying to site homeless shelters, and has sped up the creation of hundreds of shelter beds since the emergency was declared. One example: the 200-bed shelter at the former Multnomah County Sheriff's Office headquarters and Northeast Glisan and 122nd, currently the largest shelter in the city.
Fish says a year-long extension will give Multnomah County new assurances as it looks to create more shelter space. (The county recently took on responsibility to house a new Joint Office of Homeless Services that the city helps fund).
Even so, the yearlong extension that might be approved today goes against what Portlanders were told when council declared an emergency last October. That emergency ordinance contained a provision allowing the emergency status to be extended only in six-month increments—a duration that far eclipsed other types of emergencies the city declares (for weather events or natural disasters).