A person hands a water bottle to someone lying on the ground
Portland experienced three consecutive days of record-breaking heat during the June heat wave. Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County

Portland City Council will consider approving an accelerated funding timeline Wednesday for a new program to protect vulnerable Portlanders during the next heatwave. According to the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), the city’s voter-approved eco-energy fund which is presenting the request to council, the accelerated timeline is essential to distributing the program’s first round of heat-mitigating tools to homeowners and renters this summer.

This new PCEF program, called the Heat Response Program, was one of PCEF’s responses to the historic heat wave in June that killed over 60 people in Multnomah County.

Most of the people who died lived alone and didn’t have access to air conditioning. The program directs a portion of PCEF’s annual funding—raised through a small tax on large retailers in the Portland area—to purchase and install 15,000 portable heat pumps in households occupied by priority populations, like low-income Portlanders, seniors, and people of color, over the next five years. While heat pumps can be installed into a house to both heat and cool the space, PCEF is opting for portable heat pumps so they can serve vulnerable renters and homeowners equally.

Commissioner Carmen Rubio oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which houses PCEF. According to the emergency ordinance, introduced by Rubio, accelerating the timeline is essential because “PCEF resources are urgently needed to respond to the ongoing climate and economic crisis impacting historically marginalized communities.”

The emergency declaration only speeds up the release of the $11.5 million PCEF grant funding the program by one week, but PCEF manager Sam Baraso said that extra week is critical to getting heat pumps into homes by next summer. According to Baraso, in order to receive the first 3,000 heat pumps by spring 2022, the orders need to be placed by the end of the year. On top of that deadline, pandemic-related supply chain issues could extend delivery times for the heat pumps.

Once the heat pumps are received, PCEF will partner with community organizations to identify and distribute the machines to prioritized households. PCEF is currently accepting applications for partner organizations and will decide on its partners in early 2022.

City commissioners are expected to approve the emergency ordinance Wednesday.