Empowered Neighborhood Program offers resources, creativity in addressing building code violations

News Article
Staff from across the Bureau of Development Services, working with other city bureaus and students from Portland Community College, come to the aid of a black disabled homeowner in addressing multiple concerns, saving money and reducing fines.

The Empowered Neighborhoods Program helps Black, Indigenous, people of color and persons with disabilities who have received a code violation notice from the Bureau of Development Services. The program has one staff person: Ami Fitzgerald. Ami builds an internal and external team to support the client by providing resources to help close the violation case.

Travis is a former police officer who was injured on the job and left Oregon temporarily to go back to college. As a homeowner who wanted to give back to the community, he leased his home to a non-profit organization that ran a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program for women, but the organization did not take care of his house.

By the time Travis returned to Oregon, the house had been reported to the Bureau of Development Services’ Property Compliance team for nuisance and code violation complaints covering more than 30 items at the house that needed to be addressed. The code violations cited ranged from unpermitted walls being built in the home to garbage and debris on the site and other concerns. In addition, the property acquired almost $100,000 in liens, of which Travis was unaware as the tenants did not tell him.

When he returned to Portland, Travis went to work to make the corrections. Everything was resolved except for an exterior deck need that had been built without a permit. Travis tried to turn in plans to get a permit but had difficulty uploading his plans. Then the plans were rejected as incomplete. He was also unemployed and had exhausted his financial resources on the other repairs. Housing Inspector Lisa Terrell recommended he apply for assistance through the Empowered Neighborhoods Program.

Ami was immediately engaged and pulled together a team to assist with the permit. She asked Kerri Fritz, a Portland Community College architecture student, to draft the plans for the deck. Before submitting the plans, she asked experts from throughout the Bureau of Development Services to take a preliminary look at the plans. During this review process, zoning concerns were raised about the carport that was within required setbacks. The carport appeared to be original to the house, but the original plans were not available. Through examining aerial photographs and tax records, the planner was able to deem the carport original to the house, allowing it to remain and be repaired.

Travis noted that he was “extremely stressed out” by the rejected permit submittals, but after his meeting with Ami he “felt like the biggest weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

“[It was] one of the best experiences I have ever had dealing with government bureaucracy. A lot more customer-friendly,” said Travis.

Through this collaboration, new plans were submitted on August 1. The next day permit technician Steve Ross set up the permit in the permit system and by August 10 the permit was approved to issue. The next step was to reduce the financial burden. Based on income, Bureau of Development Services Director Rebecca Esau could waive Development Services’ portion of the permit fees. Anastasia Howard, a housing inspector, submitted a request for a lien waiver which was granted. Senior Housing Inspector Kevin Gummer gave the deck and permit final approval on August 30.

On his inspection, Kevin was concerned about another staircase that looked unsafe. He asked Ami if the team could assist again and asked Travis if he would be willing to collaborate again. The answer was yes. Ami reached out internally and externally for support. She was able to get another permit fee reduction and even found someone to donate wood to make the repairs through the
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s Deconstruction Program. Those plans are almost ready to be issued.

“I am super supportive of this program [Empowered Neighborhoods Program] and want to help get information out,” said Travis. “Every chance I get I talk about what a wonderful program it is. It helped me out tremendously. I am beyond thankful and blessed that I was introduced to Ami and her team.”


Empowered Neighborhoods

Development Services
phone number503-823-7300Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Oregon Relay Service711Oregon Relay Service