The June 2021 heat dome drew attention to heat risks in the Portland region. Heat caused 72 deaths in
heat wave of record-setting length in the summer of 2022 when five people in Multnomah County died of hyperthermia, underscoring an increasing risk of severe heat in our region every summer.
This sparked an urgency to address emerging heat risks. A partnership between the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Home Forward, and affordable housing residents, formed to understand and prepare for hotter summers, and prioritize those who face the greatest risks.
Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) initiated a study in 2022 to track summer temperatures inside public and affordable housing units. Public health partner Multnomah County joined to advise. Home Forward, the local Housing Authority, made apartment buildings and staff available, and facilitated resident involvement. The climate adaptation consultancy CAPA Strategies, led by heat experts Drs. Vivek Shandas and Dana Hellman, served as advisors and science leads.
“Building a resilient community means recognizing how physical and social environments make people more or less safe – and committing to collaborate for the well-being of all,” said Jonna Papaefthimiou, the City of Portland’s Chief Resilience Officer. “This partnership shows that is possible. Together we can meet the challenges of climate change and build a more equitable and disaster resilient community.”
Recommendations have been developed based on those initial study findings.
SOME SHORT-TERM SOLUTIONS
- Weatherization information
- Heat safety classes
- Distribution and installation of portable heat pumps and air conditioning units
ACTIONABLE REQUESTS FOR ASSISTANCE
- Classes to help residents take care of their households and prepare to help neighbors
- Central or expanded air conditioning
- Access to screens so that windows can be opened without bugs getting in, and
- Extended hours for cooling centers in apartment buildings.
Home Forward, the City of Portland, and Multnomah County recognize the need for developing and funding these interventions as hotter summers continue. Some resources will be more widespread this summer. Longer term, building-wide improvements may be critical to maintaining resident safety.
“Home Forward is deeply commitment to protecting the health of our community. We continue to learn from our residents and center their needs,” said Carolina Gomez, Home Forward’s Director of Integrated Facilities Services and Safety. “We are seeing today how climate change presents a huge challenge to our vulnerable community. This requires us to learn and adapt with urgency.”
- Indoor temps regularly exceeded the Centers for Disease Control’s indoor comfort standards: All units reached over 80 degrees on multiple days, with several exceeding 85 and even 90 degrees indoors. Forty of 49 (82%) units reached 85°F at least once, and 9 (18%) reached over 90°F.
- Most residents experienced some physical impacts from heat: 43 of 49 residents reported symptoms; most common were trouble sleeping, heavy sweating, headaches, and anxiety.
- Units in lower, wooden structures were less hot than concrete high-rise properties, suggesting a relationship between building form, materials, and indoor temperature.
- Higher stories in high-rise structures were not significantly hotter than lower stories.
- Survey/workshop results indicated that residents were negatively impacted by heat exposure. Some reported struggling to keep units cool with fans and air conditioners.
- Residents devised strategies to keep their units cool, including fans, shading, opening/closing windows, and avoiding cooking during hot times, and other methods.
HEAT STUDY METHODOLOGY
The study monitored temperatures in 49 units of three Home Forward properties from July to September of 2022 and assessed residents’ experiences. Sensors alerted residents with an alarm, text message and/or email, when indoor temperatures exceeded 80, 85, and 90 degrees. Residents answered survey questions about their experiences with indoor heat, heat-related illness, their perceptions of heat risk and preparedness, and coping behaviors. Residents suggested solutions and commented on survey results during two workshops.
“Climate change is an issue of equity for our time. The effects of heat are not equally distributed,” said Dr. Vivek Shandas, founder of the Sustaining Urban Places Research Lab at Portland State University, who specializes in developing strategies for adapting cities and residents to the acute impacts from climate change. “Low income, older, and Black and Brown communities are consistently facing the greatest risks from hotter summers. We need to hear from these communities about what works.”
Find the report below: