VINCE STANDS OUTSIDE the entrance to his apartment building holding a paper bag containing this week's groceries. A loaf of white bread poking out of the sack is getting wet in the steady afternoon drizzle as Vince takes the last drags off a cigarette butt he pulled from an ashtray on his walk home.
Vince—who declined to give his last name or age—is a native Portlander who used to live in Northeast, but the $733 he gets in Social Security benefits each month won't cover rent in that area anymore. He had a place out in Tualatin, but says he got kicked out. About five months ago, Vince's caseworker suggested he get a room in downtown Portland at the Joyce Hotel. He's been there ever since.
He won't be for much longer.
"This place closing is all anyone's been talking about around here for a while now," he says. "I like it here; I don't want to leave."
Vince and his neighbors in the 69-room Joyce need to find new digs by March 30, according to an eviction notice posted inside the building on December 31. The building's property management company told residents the Joyce's lease won't be renewed and that the building is for sale.
The 90-bed loss will create a service gap for some of Multnomah County's most underserved and vulnerable residents. The Joyce isn't a place anyone wants to call home, necessarily, but living on the streets is the only other option for many of the guests who stay there.
Its prime downtown location, coupled with Portland's sizzling redevelopment market, mean the hotel's days have likely been numbered for a while. The Joyce's entrance is on SW 11th between Burnside and Stark. Living Room Theaters dominates the east side of the block, which is bisected by swanky Union Way. The Joyce's dingy entrance is flanked on one side by Buffalo Exchange, and on the other by the boarded-up and graffiti-covered windows of what used to be the longtime Portland restaurant the Fish Grotto.
The Joyce, for lack of a better descriptor, is a flophouse. It's cheap—a hostel bed in a shared room will run you $19 a night, or $20 if you spring for a TV—and it has "low barriers to entry," meaning no one checks your criminal or rental history. It's also one of the few places that will accept IOUs from residents who receive state assistance, but don't have access to their own money.
To get a room all you need is an ID—they'll even accept a jail-issued version. For $40 a day or $214 for six days, pretty much anyone can get a private room with a TV and access to a shared bath.
Portland-based Precision Property Management, the company that posted the building-wide eviction notice, runs the hotel. It's not a government-funded shelter, and though local housing authorities know about the Joyce, none of them are affiliated with the hotel, according to Multnomah County spokesperson David Austin.
"It's always unfortunate to have one less option for low-income individuals who are struggling in our community," Austin says. "We hope that the landlord will at least take care to make sure that people know where to go for other options."
Rob Rankin, a local social services worker, says that while shelter situations work for some, the Joyce fills a niche that falls somewhere between traditional shelters and permanent housing.
"These are people who will maybe never stay successfully housed, but they still need a place to sleep," says Rankin, who asked that the Mercury not identify his employer since he's speaking for himself. "And right now there's nothing there to fill the void when places like the Joyce Hotel close."
The building owner, Dan Zilka, wouldn't comment about his plans for the hotel. Precision Property Management's Chief Operating Officer David Tacke, in the termination notice to Joyce residents, wrote that the company had tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with Zilka to keep the hotel open.
A lot of people are going to be scrambling for housing as a result.
Front desk clerk John Lott estimates about 60 percent of the Joyce's tenants rent rooms for weeks and months at a time, while the other 40 percent cycle through on a shorter-term basis. As the building prepares to close, he's been told to only rent in six-day increments—meaning a tenant must leave for a full 24 hours before they can rent another six days.
Finding a new place to live is especially difficult in a city where vacancy rates are tight and rents are sky high. For people with checkered histories, it's even tougher.
"Although Multnomah County does not operate or directly fund the Joyce Hotel, we help some of the residents access Medicaid and other public benefits," says Multnomah County Department of Human Services Director Liesl Wendt. "The Joyce Hotel is one of very few places where people with background challenges... can find the housing they need to access services and become stable."
Rankin says places like the Joyce aren't supposed to be part of the safety net for people who don't do well in traditional shelters or who can't otherwise get a lease—folks with arson convictions, a history of violent assault, or a serious substance abuse problem, for instance—but they are.
Marc Jolin, initiative director of housing coalition A Home for Everyone, says that though rooms at the Joyce are "less than ideal," such facilities provide critical stability that allows tenants to focus on improving other areas of their lives. He points out that the Joyce houses nearly as many people as the 90-bed men's shelter at Bud Clark Commons in Old Town.
"Ninety very low-income and vulnerable people losing their housing would have a significant impact on our community's shelter and permanent housing placement services," says Jolin, whose group is working to increase low-income housing and shelter space in Portland. "In this market it could take two housing placement specialists, working full time, [one] year to find permanent housing for that many people with significant housing barriers."