Most Cooling Units Promised to Needy Oregonians Weren’t Installed Before This Week’s Heat

There’s no doubting the urgency with which workers raced to install units in the final days before the heat hit.

Last summer, a 116-degree heat dome killed at least 96 Oregonians, most of whom lacked air conditioning. Local and state authorities pledged they would be ready for the next spike in temperatures—in part by delivering cooling units to low-income residents.

Thirteen months later, triple-digit temperatures have arrived again. And most of the AC units are still being installed.

Those installations are ongoing, the officials overseeing them point out, with crews working through the weekend to deliver cooling units to the homes of the most vulnerable Portlanders before the mercury rose. (Highs in Portland are expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit on July 27; cooler weather won’t arrive until next week.)

To be sure, every cooling unit delivered to a needy Portlander is a victory. (Clarification: Some of the delivered units are heat-pump cooling units; others are more traditional air conditioning.)

And there’s no doubting the urgency with which workers raced to install units in the final days before the heat hit.

“Earth Advantage is very satisfied with the pace of installation. The program is working,” says Pilar Calderin, climate justice program manager for Earth Advantage, which purchased cooling units with money from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund. “It’s pretty amazing that there are 796 units installed as of [Monday]. On Friday, it was 678.” (By press deadline, it was 868.)

Here are three significant efforts to install air conditioning in low-income homes, and what progress they’ve made.

PCEF Heat Response Program

Who: The Portland City Council awarded a $6.3 million grant from the Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund to Portland environmental nonprofit Earth Advantage, which purchases cooling units and contracts with other nonprofits to deliver and install them in low-income households.

Start date: Grant awarded May 4. (The City Council had previously awarded a similar grant to a California contractor, then withdrew it when The Oregonian revealed the founder’s criminal history.)

Units ordered: 3,010

Units installed: 868

Percentage complete: 29%

Multnomah County

Who: The Department of County Human Services is installing units in the homes of clients of its Aging, Disability & Veterans Services and Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities divisions.

Start date: “The purchases began arriving May 13, with the most recent shipment arriving on June 16,” says county spokeswoman Kate Yeiser. “We started distribution of ACs on June 23 and distribution is ongoing.” County commissioners approved the purchase of an additional 1,000 units in June and expanded who was eligible to receive them.

Units ordered: 180

Units installed: 92

Percentage complete: 51%

Oregon Health Authority

Who: OHA, in partnership with three community-based organizations: Portland Open Bible Church, Rockwood Community Development Corporation, and Somali American Council of Oregon.

Start date: Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1536 into law March 23, allocating $5 million to purchase air conditioners for high-risk Oregonians.

Units ordered: Roughly 3,000

Units installed: Unknown. OHA has delivered 500 units to its three partners, but isn’t sure how many have been installed. “The CBOs are distributing them out to community as fast as possible,” says OHA spokeswoman Liz Gharst.

Percentage complete: Unknown, but no more than 17%

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