Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is asking City Council to declare a housing emergency in Portland, giving the city authority to waive zoning code and convert its buildings into homeless shelters.
Hales' sudden announcement today comes in the wake of a citywide rent spike and highly publicized homeless camps—and as the mayor is being hammered on those issues by his opponent, Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler.
Seattle has already declared a housing emergency, and Los Angeles declared a homeless emergency Tuesday, dedicating $100 million.
Hales said he'll convene a meeting with those mayors in November.
"I believe that the west-coast cities dealing with rising rents and intractable homelessness must work together," Hales told the council this morning.
Portland rents have rapidly increased over the past year—by some estimates, the steepest climb in the U.S. It's unclear how Hales' proposal would affect those rent costs, however.
Instead, the mayor's proposal would chiefly address homelessness, an issue where Wheeler has strongly criticized him but where numbers show little change.
"When I came into office, the single-night count of homeless told us we had 1,800 Portlanders sleeping unsheltered," Hales said this morning in his statement. "That same count, two years later, barely budged."
UPDATE, 12:20 pm: Wheeler campaign spokesman Jake Weigler dismissed Hales' declaration as a political ploy.
"Ted Wheeler has said we have a full-blown crisis on the streets of our city and we are glad that after three years in office Charlie Hales is finally acknowledging that fact," Weigler said. "Helping get people off the streets will require aggressive leadership and an all-hands-on deck approach that includes access to emergency shelter, mental health care, addiction treatment, and transitional housing."
So far, neither Wheeler nor Hales have suggested significant deviations from the approaches the city and Multnomah County are currently employing.