Five More Deaths During Heat Wave Confirmed by Affordable Housing Groups

Last weekend, WW asked Home Forward if there was a death at the Peter Paulson building downtown after hearing from residents that someone had passed. Home Forward said that was inaccurate. On July 7, it confirmed it had been mistaken and that there was a death.

Heat Wave (Wesley Lapointe)

Five additional deaths occurred in affordable housing in Multnomah County during the June heat wave, WW learned on July 7.

So far, seven deaths have been confirmed in affordable housing during the heat wave, but none has been definitively linked to the heat.

Three different affordable housing providers that operate in Multnomah County—Relay Resources, Reach CDC and Home Forward—confirm that residents died during the heat wave. Relay and Reach confirmed two deaths apiece, but did not disclose which buildings they occurred in.

On July 3, Home Forward, the largest affordable housing agency in the state, first confirmed to WW two deaths at its buildings: one at Peaceful Villa in the Richmond neighborhood and another at the Northwest Tower in the Alphabet District. The agency confirmed a third death, but only after WW learned from residents that a fellow resident had died in the downtown Peter Paulson building.

A Home Forward spokesperson told WW twice that the report of a death in the Peter Paulson building was inaccurate before acknowledging today, during a small press conference with a handful of reporters, that someone had indeed died in that building.

“We have received corrected information today, and there was a death,” Home Forward executive director Michael Buonocore said, adding that first responders seemed to think it was heat-related. “I want to apologize for that inaccuracy.”

Buonocore said that the residents who died had all received check-ins prior to their deaths.

“In all three circumstances, we had verified that, at all three properties, friends, property staff or family or caregivers had checked in with the individuals,” Buonocore said. “We don’t know if either of these deaths were caused by heat, if it exacerbated other conditions, or if there was another cause.”

The death at Peter Paulson, he said, occurred between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. The other two deaths took place on Wednesday.

It’s not clear whether Home Forward did a systematic check of its buildings, asking each property management company they employ about heat-related fatalities. “I don’t know that folks who oversee multiple properties, I can’t tell you if they talked to each property staff and asked that question,” Buonocore said.

“We don’t need a more clear indication that we need to take steps to be more prepared” for another heat event, he added. At Peaceful Villa, where one resident died, there was no particular outreach prior to or during the heat wave, Buonocore said.

He says Home Forward focused on outreach at the high-rise buildings, but conceded that more should have been done. “In anticipation that this kind of heat event will happen again, we’ll work to build a larger supply of air conditioning units that can be deployed on an emergency basis,” Buonocore said. “We’ll also work with our community partners to look for ways to increase outreach and support for our residents, including other options to help people cool off.”

The state’s total death count from the heat wave is up to 116 as of July 7, and Multnomah County’s count is up to 72.

At least four deaths occurred during the heat wave at properties run by affordable housing nonprofits, WW has learned.

Relay CDC owns and manages 800 units across the county, including both multifamily units and single-family homes. “We are aware of two residents passing away around the time of the heat wave,” spokesperson Tiffini Mueller said. “However, the cause of death is unknown.”

Relay officials say it has one building with central air conditioning, and residents in the rest of its buildings are allowed to have their own AC units, so long as they don’t block egress: “For example, if a living room window opens on to a walkway, the resident may not install a window type in that window; it would need a free-standing AC.”

Reach CDC owns and manages 2,114 housing units throughout the county. All of those are affordable housing communities. Reach confirmed that two deaths occurred in its holdings but declined to say which buildings.

“Based on the information we have, they are not presenting as heat-related, though we do not know the official cause of death,” spokesperson Lauren Schmidt told WW.

Two Reach buildings, reserved for the elderly, have air conditioning in apartments, Schmidt said. The rest only have air conditioning in common spaces. Reach allows residents to purchase their own AC units and brackets and then mandates that Reach installs the units for safety reasons.

“It is Reach policy that Reach must install standard AC units (vertical window AC) to ensure it is installed safely and correctly. Residents fill out a form, buy their own AC unit and installation brackets, and Reach will install,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said it’s not standard practice for Reach to do wellness checks on its residents unless there’s concern expressed by another resident, or someone calls Reach’s emergency number.

Reach said it prepped residents for the heat wave by hosting “cooling workshops at various properties over the last few weeks. Residents can get a box fan and receive education on how to keep cool at these events....Leading up to the hot weekend, Reach emailed cooling center information to our resident email list and asked site teams to post this information on community boards.”

Central City Concern, Sabin CDC and Rose CDC reported no deaths during the heat wave.

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