Murmurs: Audit Outlines Homeless Services Dysfunction

In other news: Latest housing fight is Kotek vs. Lorax.

SEARING AUDIT OUTLINES HOMELESS SERVICES DYSFUNCTION: A Multnomah County audit of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, a joint venture between the county and the city of Portland, rattles off a list of alarming deficiencies. Among the most damning findings by County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk: The office sometimes pays providers months late; it asks them to work before contracts are in place; it adjusts performance measures if providers cannot meet original goals; and it could not produce simple data on how many people it’s housed—even to the county auditor herself. McGuirk also reported a remarkably high turnover rate among staff (250 have left in recent years) and wrote that because the office could not furnish her with basic placement stats, she “decided we would best serve the public interest by not waiting any longer on data requests” and instead issue two reports. The next report, McGuirk says, will be on “data reliability.” In a response to McGuirk, County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson agreed with many of the findings and assured the auditor that much of the work to correct the deficiencies was “well underway.”

LATEST HOUSING FIGHT IS KOTEK VS. LORAX: Gov. Tina Kotek’s housing agenda has drawn the ire of environmentalists—again. Earlier this month, WW broke the news that Kotek’s housing advisory panel had proposed scrapping state law to allow housing development on “marginal or degraded wetlands” (“Fill It In,” Aug. 9). Environmental advocates despised the idea, and their outcry is even louder now that Kotek’s Housing Production Advisory Council has placed trees in the path of the bulldozers. The latest draft proposal from HPAC would allow developers to skirt city tree codes so long as the trees are less than 60 inches in diameter. On Aug. 21, leaders of more than 20 environmental groups—including Friends of Trees, Portland Audubon and Willamette Riverkeeper—asked Kotek to reject the plan, saying it would only intensify the heat islands that broil residents of low-income places like East Portland. “This is a green light for developers to clear-cut lots without even paying for replacements the city could plant elsewhere,” the letter says. “The HPAC proposal seems designed with one goal in mind—to facilitate developers’ ability to build more, profitable, though not necessarily better or affordable, housing at all costs and at the expense of community health.” The governor’s office says HPAC hasn’t yet brought her any formal recommendations, but she’s willing to take bold steps. “The council’s charge is to have frank conversations about the opportunities and challenges to making urgent progress on Oregon’s housing supply crisis—and land availability is a key issue.”

CITY WANTS TO BEEF UP SECURITY AT SMARTPARK GARAGES: The Portland Bureau of Transportation is asking the City Council to spend up to $2.7 million to hire more security guards at its four parking garages downtown. They’re currently relying on a temporary contractor, says PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera, and the results have been less than encouraging. “We want to provide better security than we’ve been seeing in recent months,” Rivera tells WW. There’s been “a surge in crime and public drug use in SmartPark garages,” according to an item on the Aug. 23 council agenda. The money will be used to contract with additional security firms to pick up unfilled shifts. “Incidents, including vehicle break-ins, physical and verbal altercations, drug use, vandalism, and biological waste, pose significant ongoing public health and safety concerns,” the bureau noted in the agenda item. The new spending proposal comes as PBOT struggles to fill its downtown garages in the wake of the pandemic, and a decline in parking revenue has butchered its budget. Earlier this month, it was forced to close its little-used 830-space garage at Southwest 3rd Avenue and Alder Street, a few blocks from the open-air fentanyl market that has been the target of recent police crackdowns.

PROLOGIS LAWYERS UP: Prologis Inc., the company that plans to turn the vacant Kmart on Northeast Sandy Boulevard into a shipping warehouse, has hired a heavy-hitting white-collar lawyer to fight a class action lawsuit over the fire that consumed the building July 19. Local resident Stephen Vandervort sued Prologis over the fire, alleging the company had failed to properly maintain the hulk, creating conditions that led to the blaze. Prologis brought out the big guns, hiring Per Ramfjord, a partner at Stoel Rives who has spent time in court on cases involving the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, according to the law firm’s website. And Ramfjord has fresh fire experience. He helped defend PacifiCorp against charges that the utility left power lines on despite warnings of high winds during Labor Day weekend 2020, leading to catastrophic fires when the lines blew down. PacifiCorp lost that case in June, and the jury awarded the named plaintiffs $87 million in damages. Because it’s a class action suit, damages apply to 5,000 survivors of the fire and could cost PacifiCorp billions. Prologis has a long-term lease on the Kmart site. It’s owned by an LLC controlled by Zygmunt Wilf, a real estate developer and owner of the Minnesota Vikings. In a letter to Vandervort’s attorney, Ranfjord said Prologis planned to start tearing down the Kmart on Aug. 28.

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