If Portland Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman succeeds in winning the go-ahead for a temporary homeless shelter at the city-owned Terminal 1 on Wednesday, he might be forced to share his every move with the state's Department of Environmental Quality.
And that could be an issue.
Commissioner Nick Fish has released a number of amendments (here and here) he plans to introduce tomorrow, when City Council is slated to vote on a resolution that would lay the groundwork for a 400-person shelter at the property, 2400 NW Front.
Fish both controls Terminal 1 (through his Bureau of Environmental Services) and opposes the shelter idea. And as the Mercury first reported last week, he's intent on making sure any deal to lease Terminal 1's 96,000-square-foot warehouse to the Portland Housing Bureau is set at current market rates of roughly $33,600 per month.
Saltzman's office has argued that the rent should be $10,000 per month, which is well under market rate, but which BES nonetheless recently leased the space for (the bureau is currently leasing portions of the warehouse space and a parking lot on the property for $26,200 per month).
The bulk of Fish's amendments address that question. He wants an "independent real estate brokerage professional" to be brought in to find a fair price. (His bureau, BES, recently consulted one.)
But Fish is also going to suggest a tweak to the proposed lease [PDF] between BES and the Housing Bureau that would explicitly require the bureau to "notify the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality of the proposed change to residential use of the Premises..."
That could be a game-changer. As the Portland Tribune reported recently, DEQ has voiced worries about putting people at the Terminal 1 site, which prominent Portland developer Homer Williams is hoping to turn into an enormous campus for the homeless called the Oregon Trail of Hope.
The DEQ's concern stems from the fact that the property has only been approved as environmentally suitable for industrial uses. It's unclear what kind of work would be needed to turn it into a place where people could live—and also how potent the DEQ's opinion is while the city's declared a housing "state of emergency."
Jim Blackwood, a senior policy director for Fish, says that's a determination the state will have to make.
"The current DEQ ruling is all we need for BES purposes," he says. "Anyone using the site for a non-conforming use will have to notify DEQ and deal with their ruling."
We've reached out to Saltzman's office for its take, and will update when we hear back.
Update, 5 pm: Brendan Finn, Saltzman's chief of staff, says Williams and other proponents of a shelter at Terminal 1 are conferring with DEQ about its concerns.
"The Trail of Hope organization has contacted DEQ and wants to discuss with them what the issues may be," Finn says. "We’re not trying to use the state of emergency to get around any concerns that might be generated regarding a temporary shelter."
Tomorrow's city council hearing is sure to be interesting and fraught. As is always the case with homeless shelter proposals, neighbors, businesses, and other groups are expected to testify against the plan. What's interesting, this time around, is that other influential business types—like Williams—are expected to argue for the shelter. And council appears ready to line up behind the move. Both Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick have signaled they're leaning toward joining Saltzman in moving toward a temporary 400-person shelter.
Williams has said he'll seek private funds to pay for that shelter's operating budget. The larger homeless campus Williams has proposed—which he says would cost as little as $60 million—would be dependent on whether he can find meaningful private-sector resources to help pay for the property.