COVID-19 Risk Level for Multnomah County: High Risk

Commissioner Ryan's Bi-Monthly Blog

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January 2021 included critically important council items and work sessions—and February promises to be just as significant. Your advocacy and partnership in addressing the City’s numerous issues is crucial and appreciated! Here are some updates from offices and bureaus on the many programs and policies we have been working on.

Affordable housing development sketch

Portland Housing Bureau

Since September, the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) has been working with the Joint Office of Homeless Services and dozens of community organizations to deploy more than $43 million in emergency household assistance from the CARES Act to prevent evictions and stabilize households struggling from the health and financial impacts of COVID-19. The programs include rent support as well as prepaid cards with direct cash assistance to help impacted Portlanders pay for dependent care, food, medical costs, utility payments, transportation, and other urgent household needs.

Recognizing that the COVID crisis has deepened the health and economic disparities for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities that already existed due to systemic and institutionalized racism, PHB partnered with more than 40 culturally specific agencies and other community organizations to distribute funds—many of which represent new partnerships for the City in an effort to create new opportunities with City resources and to better serve BIPOC and immigrant and refugee communities, who often face barriers to accessing assistance programs.
One of these organizations is the Oregon Chinese Coalition.Oftentimes our community members face barriers to asking for assistance and accessing resources, due to battling perceptions of the model minority myth and historic impacts of discrimination and racism,” said Hongcheng Zhao. “This program gave us the opportunity to offer concrete resources to help. Through multiple outreach efforts, we found families in need of assistance and were able to help pay the rent. Almost all of the families we assisted had language barriers. We really appreciate this opportunity from the City which enabled us to focus on supporting the Chinese-American community." 

So far, more than 28,600 Portlanders have received assistance through these programs since September.

Downtown Portland aerial shot

Bureau of Development Services - Field Issuance Remodel Program

“It’s been a game-changer.”

That’s how Cherish Berry, general manager of Renewal by Andersen, a custom window and door replacement company, described her company’s recent enrollment in the Field Issuance Remodel program at the Bureau of Development Services.

The program, commonly known as FIR, was designed as a pilot project in 2003 to streamline the process for reviewing plans and inspecting work by contractors who mostly focus on residential remodeling, additions to one- and two-family homes, and new construction or modification of accessory structures. Through FIR, contractors have one point of contact at the Bureau of Development Services who helps shepherd projects through plan reviews and inspections, including those of other city bureaus that issue permits and review plans related to development.

The program, which became a permanent part of BDS in 2006, has featured a lean staff of one Development Services Technician supporting seven senior building inspectors dedicated to serving the 480 contractors enrolled in FIR as of last spring.

In March 2020, when COVID-19 caused most city buildings to temporarily close, FIR work was paused for about two weeks as the Bureau of Development Services had to adjust to new working conditions that required an initial reprioritizing of permits that could be processed by a mostly teleworking workforce.

After the temporary hiatus, the FIR program got up and running quickly since it was already set up for remote permitting in early 2019, “and once word got out that FIR was still moving, applications exploded,” said Diane Parke, the director of the FIR program since 2018. Home remodeling and additions have not slowed down during the pandemic and economic recession. Contractors sharing their experience with the program helped bring 200 to 300 calls a month to the Bureau inquiring about enrollment in the FIR program.

By September, there was significant demand for the FIR program and due to a simultaneous hiring freeze in place because of the pandemic, more inspectors could not be hired. The FIR team consisted of the same seven residential inspectors who were now called on to assist more customers. To meet the demand, the broader residential inspection team at the Bureau lent “senior combo inspectors” – inspectors who could assist with inspection services for permitted projects for compliance with state building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical codes to help manage overflow of inspections, while FIR Inspectors continued to keep plan review moving forward.

With that extra assistance from current Bureau employees lending help to the FIR program, 80 contractors on the waiting list were admitted into the program and the waiting list was reset. As of mid-November, there were 565 residential contractors enrolled in the FIR program, with about 400 of those with active projects in the FIR pipeline. More than four dozen other contractors were on the waiting list as of Jan. 15.

“I’m proud of the way my team, without hesitation, just stepped up. No complaints, to keep homeowners projects moving forward and contractors in our community working,” said Parke.

Each new enrollee in the FIR program takes part in a 90-minute session to orient them to how the FIR program works, how to file permit requests and what to expect. “(FIR) has changed everything for our business and our clients’ experience,” said James Plumlee, CEO of Pluüm Construction, a home remodeling company and recent FIR member. “It has allowed us to become more efficient and get started on jobs sooner which gives us a quicker end date. It is allowed clients to make changes on the fly that would otherwise have possibly taken weeks to get approved.”

Once contractors get oriented to the more streamlined system for processing home remodels and additions, the workload for the FIR team is steady. “November and December have not slowed down,” said Parke in mid-November. As of mid-January, FIR contractors have work booked out through June.

Those who are interested in more information about the Bureau of Development Services’ Field Issuance Remodel program can visit the program’s website, email BDSFIRPERMITS@portlandoregon.gov or call 503-823-6691 on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., except holidays.

Shelter employee receiving vaccine

Joint Office of Homeless Services

Lindsey Prutch walked away feeling calm after paramedic Erick Gillmore, sitting at a bare-bones station with a laptop, vials, gloves and other gear, had just administered her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. “It went well,” Prutch said as she made her way through a cavernous bay at the Oregon Convention Center to sit down and wait out a required 15-minute vigil to watch for any side effects. “It didn’t hurt at all.”

Within an hour of the clinic launch, a line of providers that had formed by the door had vanished. The clinic vaccinated 64 people in the first 50 minutes, and then welcomed a steady flow of providers who walked quickly through the process. By the end of Friday, the clinic was expected to serve as many as 400 people, with another day planned next week.

“As more and more vaccines become available, we — the health and medical community — will need to come together to do this,” said Alice Busch, deputy director of Multnomah County Emergency Management. “My goal today was to integrate first responders with public health nurses with community volunteers. We’re ironing out the protocols. At the end of the day we’ll all talk about solutions. This is quality improvement, happening right now.”

After she received her vaccine, Jennifer Pirtle, a community health worker with the Native Wellness Institute and the Native American Rehabilitation Association, held up her vaccination card and smiled. She said she looks forward to eventually returning to face-to-face work with her community, which faces disproportionate levels of homelessness and also fallout from COVID-19. 

At a time when so many community members might have doubts about the vaccine, she said, getting the shot and sharing her experience is important. “I’m doing my part,” she said. “It’s about keeping my community safe.”

Portland child and recipient of programs funded by Portland Children's Levy

Portland Children's Levy

The Portland Children’s Levy Allocation Committee (PCL) has approved $1 million in investments for the Small Grants Fund to improve equity of access for organizations that have not received Levy funding in the past.

The three-year grants will begin this month and include four mentoring programs, three after-school programs and one hunger relief program. They are: African Youth and Community Organization, Camp Elso, Portland Tennis and Education, Brown Girl Rise, Elevate Oregon, Ethiopian & Eritrean Cultural and Resource Center, Urban Gleaners and Native Wellness Center.

"These extraordinary, community-based organizations, and new PCL partners, will provide hope and resiliency to the next generation by serving children, youth and families from marginalized communities, individuals with intersectional identities, and those with disabilities,'' says City Commissioner Dan Ryan and PCL Allocation Committee Chair. 

The Small Grants Fund process began last spring and was spearheaded by Levy Small Grants Fund Manager Arika Bridgeman-Bunyoli. The process included guidance from a six-member volunteer Design Team, included multiple community conversations with small organizations, and culminated in funding recommendations made by a 12-member review team.

As we welcome the new Small Grants Fund grantee partners, we’d like to highlight one afterschool program for East African youth with disabilities. 

The African Youth and Community Organization’s (AYCO) mission is “to settle the past, engage the present, and hope for the future.” AYCO strives to strengthen a sense of cultural identity within immigrant communities while also enhancing capacity toward integration and hope for the future.

    AYCO shares,

"We have to take a look at the bigger picture rather than through the microscopic lens when reflecting on the needs of an unrepresented population. African Youth Community Organization (AYCO), serves a majority of the Somali population from financial assistance to youth support to family support. Beyond serving the general needs of the youth in our community, this grant helps us to serve children with special learning needs in a culturally specific way that engages their whole family. There has been little to no self-care, psychologically, given the Somali civil war that has left thousands of people homeless, seeking refuge, traumatized and more. African Youth and Community Organization is able to better support our youth community to better manage life with the fund offered by the Portland Children's Levy. Thanks to the grant and our Occupational Therapist, we are able to better support from simple needs to complex skills that a person might have."