It's a bit ironic that today—exactly one year after City Council declared a housing emergency in Portland—was also the day when homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) was supposed to have been bounced from its long-time home.
Under an agreement the Portland Development Commission (PDC) inked two years ago with the people who own the plot at West Fourth and Burnside, the land was to be empty by October 7 to give the city time to study it in advance of a purchase.
That's not going to happen. The PDC now says that R2DToo can stay on the land until, at latest, April 7—the day the agency could opt to purchase the property for $1.2 million under the agreement.
"While all parties had agreed to have the site vacant by today, if the owners can successfully work with R2DToo on a resolution that results in a vacant site by 4/7/17, then the contract would allow PDC to purchase the property on that date," PDC spokesperson Shawn Uhlman tells the Mercury.
The news is vital for R2DToo, which a state land-use board ruled in August cannot move to a long-anticipated home in the Central Eastside. That decision was a blow for the well-regarded encampment for two major reasons: The city had already spent or committed most of the money set aside to move R2DToo, and it was staring down an October deadline to move.
The PDC's decision, then, creates some breathing room. What it doesn't do is offer clarity.
Officials are still trying to figure out whether there is a workaround that might allow the camp to move to the Central Eastside plot at SE Harrison and Third—for instance, via changes to the city's zoning code. The two city officials who've been most involved with the camp, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz, have both said in recent days they have no clue how the city will move forward.
"I'm not hopeful of finding somewhere else," Fritz said today, noting officials looked for years before landing on the Central Eastside site.
R2DToo co-founder Ibrahim Mubarak says the camp's six additional months will help, but might not ultimately be enough: should the city pursue zoning code changes to accommodate R2DToo, they might not be able to go through in time.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen," he says. "We’re trying to do it expeditiously."
If the rest area isn't able to move to its intended land, there's another problem. Out of more than $850,000 that was dedicated to finding R2DToo a new plot, all but around $30,000 has been spent or committed in the effort to resettle across the river. That's money the organization will demand back if it turns out the Central Eastside is off limits.
"It was supposed to be for us to get out land, but they put it under the watchful eye of the city officials," Mubarak says. "They weren't supposed to do something until both sides agreed, and we didn't agree to everything."
Fritz says the money will still be available.
"We've assure them that if they're not moving [to SE Harrison and Third] then the money won't be used for that," she says. She added the funds could be replenished from the city's contingency fund or some other source.
The PDC's already paying rent of sorts for R2DToo. As part of its purchase deal with the owners of the property at West Burnside and Fourth, the agency pays $10,000 a month.