By Joe Keizur
ED NOTE: At Affordable Oregon, we try to keep the content of our articles to a “third person” point of view. “Third person” writing is more formal and cleaner to read. This Volume of Ugh…Portland is written in “first person” by our Executive Director because it directly relates to his experience with a piece of real estate he owns in the City of Portland and his opinion on the issue…
This fall, my son will begin school at Portland State University. As parents, we are thrilled he will be attending college and even happier he chose a school close to home. Like any parents with a college age child, we had to figure out how we were going to pay for college and the cost of his room and board. After studying the total cost, we decided to purchase a small condominium unit near the school for our son to live in. If you can avoid paying rent and build equity, it’s a win-win.
Set aside if you will for a moment that our son is ridiculously lucky that his parents can afford to do something like that. We like to believe our son is appreciative and knows this situation is not typical, but we are probably giving him too much credit. In an unbelievable stroke of luck, we found a small, reasonably affordable condominium unit at McCormick Pier. For those who are not familiar, its situated on the bank of the Willamette between the Steel and Broadway Bridge. Its way too nice for a kid in college and I secretly want to punch him for being so fortunate as to luck into this opportunity.
McCormick Pier was built in the early 80’s and converted from apartments to condominiums. Like most condominiums it has an active HOA with a management company. Our experience with the HOA so far has been great. Seems like everyone has the best interest of the community at hand and the staff seem pretty good too. No complaints at all on how the place is run.
Recently, while I was working on another article, I received an email from the HOA proposing a letter writing campaign to the City of Portland. My fellow owners and the Board of Directors are concerned about a proposed homeless shelter located nearby and they want owners to voice their dismay to the Portland City Council in hopes of pushing the shelter somewhere else. Here is the proposed letter writing campaign.
As the former owner of an HOA management company (Blue Mountain Community Management), we tried to steer our associations away from collective political commentary on behalf of residents. It can create divisions within the community and frankly, the job of the Association is to focus on running the day-to-day issues the HOA can control, not on political advocacy. Unfortunately, in this case, the McCormick Pier Board has chosen to enter the political fray, asking their community manager to circulate a letter writing campaign. As I read the proposed letters, I could feel the steam gathering between my ears. Here is why:
- The letters suggest that while the owners of McCormick Pier understand and sympathize with the homeless issue the city is confronting, this shelter should not be cited near McCormick Pier. They go on to suggest that a homeless shelter will lower their property values while compromising the safety and livability of McCormick Pier. last time I went down to the condo I purchased, I saw half a dozen homeless people camping within 1,000 feet of the complex. I also witnessed a clearly intoxicated man defecating on the sidewalk and then slumping over with his pants down and passing out. I am pretty sure the homeless issue in Portland is already affecting property values and safety. How is having a homeless shelter where people can get food, help and attention going to make it any worse than it already is? At least the shelter would have bathrooms.
- The letter goes on to suggest a deep concern about environmental contamination on the lot where the shelter would sit and opposition to the location under the Broadway Bridge. Again, last time I was down there, the homeless were already congregating under the bridge. I am fairly certain the homeless were not waiting in line for the shelter to be built, so pretending the shelter is going to make the homeless issue worse under the bridge is laughable and disingenuous. I am sure each of you are as touched as I was by the great concern McCormick Pier seemingly has for the homeless and their exposure to onsite environmental contamination as well.
- The sample letters go on to cite a great concern that the City of Portland would not be running the site and that a couple of non-profits dedicated to helping the homeless would be less desirable than the City running the project. DO THESE PEOPLE LIVE IN PORTLAND? The City cannot manage or maintain anything well. Streets are pot hole ridden, parks are overgrown and the next time someone at the City picks a weed from a sidewalk it will be the first time. Yet my fellow owners think it would be better if the City ran the project?
At the root of these letters is a massive problem within the City of Portland that the City itself is responsible for making. Campaigns like the one my condominium association is mounting regularly work in Portland. If a neighborhood is up in arms, the City of Portland throws its hands in the air and promises to find a better way. Now, every time anything controversial is proposed near any place where people are living, the City runs into this kind of resistance. This is the natural consequence of kowtowing to NIMBYism.
Both letters suggest shipping the homeless out of the neighborhood and over to Wapato as a solution. It’s all well and good to talk about helping the homeless, to pay higher taxes to help the homeless, to even spend your thanksgivings spooning soup to the homeless down at the shelter, but the minute the homeless disrupt your life, cost you money or otherwise offend you, well… We should immediately house them in a place where they are isolated from society, out of sight and out of mind. I bet the homeless would rather we just honestly told them we are disgusted by their presence and want them to go away. At least that would be genuine.
As for my fellow unit owners and the McCormick Pier Condominium Board: Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. In a county where better than 70% of the voters identify as progressives (including myself) it’s funny how quickly you all recoil in terror when the very policies championed by a progressive platform (compassion, equality, civil liberties etc.) result in a perceived negative impact on you or your home value. What makes McCormick Pier, the Pearl District, East Moreland or any other trendy neighborhood in Portland better than the other neighborhoods in Portland or the Region? Who do you think you are?
We have a housing and homeless crisis in our region. Playing “shuffle the homeless” between neighborhoods is not action, its not progressive and its certainly not going to solve the problem. I bought my unit knowing there was a growing homeless problem and that it may impact my total value. I also am smart enough to know that all real estate is inherently risky and that the value may increase or decrease depending on dozens of factors. If you can’t live with that then don’t purchase a home; rent and abdicate that responsibility to someone willing to assume the risk. Due diligence and ongoing evaluation of your home and the investment you made in it is your responsibility, not the City of Portland’s.
Instead of signing my name to a canned letter that perpetuates the ongoing plague of NIMBYism in Portland, I am submitting the following letter to each elected official on the list. I hope it’s used in defense of placing the homeless shelter right where the plan calls for and I hope each person living in McCormick Pier sincerely considers their own supposed values before sending one of these letters to the City. UGH….PORTLAND.