The City of Portland continues its work to ensure recovery from the economic and social impacts of COVID-19, prioritizing housing stability, small business support, and safe spaces for people experiencing homelessness. These actions are designed to support Portlanders through the worst of the crisis into a safe, sustainable recovery and a more-resilient future.
Local Business Support
Last week, Prosper Portland announced the distribution of more than $11 million in small business relief grants from the latest round of the Portland Small Business relief Fund (SBRF). More than 900 small businesses—the vast majority owned by BIPOC community members—will receive support via the Fund.
The work of selecting among the more than 4,900 applicants was guided by the city’s Equity Toolkit and the knowledge that Black people, indigenous people and all people of color have experienced the greatest impacts from the pandemic.
An additional $3 million will be distributed as block grants to community-based organizations that serve culturally specific populations to ensure the funds reach community members most in need. The block grant process will begin during the week of October 26th.
In total, this year Prosper Portland distributed more than $17 million to more than 1,200 local businesses, most of which are owned by people of color.
Very early in the pandemic, Mayor Wheeler directed Prosper Portland to stand up its Economic Impact Task Force, convening community partners to identify the greatest needs and the most efficient and effective responses to support local businesses through the crisis and into recovery. The more than 80 task force partners shaped the City’s response for local businesses.
Actions include dedicating $200,000 to a retail activation strategy, redirecting $100,000 for areas impacted by increased graffiti in partnership with City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, and adopting a $1 million utility support pledge that prioritized Black-owned businesses.
Renter and Homeowner Stability, Safe Spaces for People Experiencing Homelessness
The Portland Housing Bureau dedicated $1.6 million in CARES Act funds to housing stabilization and home retention support for low-income BIPOC homeowners. On Friday, October 23rd, the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) announced a $15 million COVID-19 Household Assistance Program. Under the program, Portlanders struggling from health or financial impacts of COVID-19 can apply for $500 to help with food, dependent care, medicine, rent, utilities, and transportation. In total, the program is expected to assist 27,000 Portland households.
Housing relief actions through the PHB began in March, when the City and County adopted a six-month eviction moratorium for those unable to pay rent due to COVID-related economic hardship. The moratorium was recently extended to January 8, 2021. The mandatory relocation assistance program was extended until March 31, 2021. In August, in partnership with the County and Joint Office of Homeless Services, the City also committed $35 million in state, local and federal funds for rent assistance to thousands of Portland households.
Earlier, PHB distributed $1 million to boost people hurt by the pandemic. The bureau provided $200,000 in assistance to households suffering a loss of income due to COVID-19 for urgent household needs like groceries, utilities, and medical expenses. It provided $800,000 to households in need through internal referrals by social service agencies and homeless service providers. And, the City deferred rent payments for all commercial retail tenants on City property to allow small businesses to focus on getting through the crisis.
Despite the pandemic, the City also continues to exceed goals for the creation of new affordable housing. There are now 1,494 units of permanently affordable Portland housing-bond supported homes open or in development throughout Portland—enough for an estimated 3,076 people. Nearly 700 of the homes have two or more bedrooms to serve families with children. More than 600 of the homes are reserved for extremely low-income households, including those experiencing homelessness, seniors on fixed incomes, and veterans. Projects funded outside of the Portland Housing Bond also are moving forward.
Since February, the City, Multnomah County, and the Joint Office have partnered to help people experiencing homelessness stay safe. The City opened public restrooms and added dozens of portable restrooms and handwashing stations throughout the community. Portland Parks & Recreation provided community centers for use as COVID-compliant temporary shelters. The City also partnered with the Joint Office to open three new safe outdoor shelters during the spring of this year. The Joint Office is also supplying community partners and volunteers with life-saving gear to share with people in camps, including more than 110,000 masks and hundreds of gallons of sanitizer and water.
More recently, Mayor Wheeler announced nearly 300 new beds at three sites around the city to serve people experiencing homelessness through the fall and winter. These 24-hour sites will offer safe, physically distant beds with resources including housing navigation services, three meals a day, showers, and laundry. Two Portland Parks & Recreation community centers will serve as shelters, as will downtown’s Greyhound bus station.