Homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too—suddenly barred from moving to Portland's Central Eastside—is trying to hash out a deal with the city to remain at its Chinatown home while Portland officials pursue zoning code tweaks that would allow it to relocate across the river.
R2DToo's attorney, Mark Kramer, tells the Mercury that he's in talks with people from Mayor Charlie Hales' office and the Portland Development Commission in an attempt to work out a deal that could salvage nearly $850,000 spent or allocated to move the well-regarded rest area.
"We’ve already allocated $845,000 toward this relocation," Kramer said this afternoon, referring to money the City of Portland spent purchasing a plot of land at Southeast 3rd and Harrison and readying it for the encampment. "It would be a shame to let that go down the drain."
Word of the strategizing comes a day after the state's Land Use Board of Appeals ruled that R2DToo counts as a mass shelter, not as an ambiguous "community service" as city code enforcers had argued. As a mass shelter, the encampment is barred from setting up on the industrial land that was to be its home.
According to Kramer, the camp's best course of action is to undo those restrictions. While he couldn't site the precise mechanism through which it might happen, Kramer says he's pressing officials to modify the city's zoning code to "permit certain houseless encampments to be sited on industrial lands, which includes the Third and Harrison site and would include other sites."
Sources within City Hall confirm that that's among the options being considered, though there's a lot up in the air. An attempt to make such a change would almost certainly draw outrage and court challenges from segments of the city's business community.
While a zoning change is in process, Kramer says R2DToo wants to push back the current October 31 deadline to vacate the plot at West Burnside and Fourth where it's sat for the last five years. The Portland Development Commission has agreed to buy that land for more than $1 million in a deal that's supposed to close next April. In the meantime, the PDC has been paying its current owner, Michael Wright, $10,000 per month while R2DToo remains on site.
"I think we can probably negotiate a six-month extension," says Kramer, noting "this is still in the germination stages." During that six months, Kramer says the PDC would continue to pay $10,000 a month. (We should note he also represents the property owner, Wright—a scenario Kramer acknowledges is "awkward.")
The R2DToo drama is playing out at an exceptionally fraught time in Portland's fight against homelessness. Mayor Charlie Hales, who's out of town on vacation, has ordered a sweep of the densely packed camps along the Springwater Corridor. That's set to begin tomorrow morning, and may take weeks. It's dredged up long-simmering resentments by both neighbors of the trail and homeless advocates who say sweeping is a detriment.
At the same time, the city's considering extending a housing "state of emergency" designation that city council enacted last October. During a sometimes-heated hearing on that matter this afternoon, council listened to more than two hours of testimony. Much of it came from renters' advocates demanding the city enact a rent freeze (which government attorneys have said would be illegal), and from homeless people and advocates—some unimpressed with progress under the emergency, some laudatory of it.
Council will vote on the extension next week, and will almost certainly elect to extend it for an extra year.