Digest: Thursday, March 17, 2022

Emergency rental assistance deadline extended

The Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program will accept applications through midnight on March 21. Applications were previously scheduled to close on March 14. The extension is due to new funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury that came through late on March 14. That funding will likely cover an additional 2,200 households.

Renters in Oregon unable to pay rent are protected from eviction due to non-payment of rent, but only during the application process for rent assistance. OERAP has received almost 25,000 new applications since January 26. Local organizations have covered gaps in OERAP’s coverage and funding, although many programs, like the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ Housing Authority’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, have run out of funding recently.

Emergency rental protections put in place in 2020 are also expiring. On February 28, Oregon’s grace period against evictions ended for renters who owe substantial back rent. Eviction rates are rapidly rising as a result. Landlords have also continued to evict on a variety of other grounds throughout the pandemic.

Portland Clean Energy Fund’s struggles with accountability

The Portland Clean Energy Fund generated $116 million in 2021, funded by taxes on retailers with annual sales of $500,000 in Portland and more than $1 billion nationally. A report released to the public last week from Portland City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero’s office found that the PCEF has not implemented accountability systems and has multiple oversight concerns. The audit also noted that the PCEF is still waiting on key guidance from the Portland City Council, including goals for using funds, and that all accountability responsibility for the PCEF remains in the hands of the City Council.

One key issue not included in the audit is a $12 million contract awarded to Diversifying Energy, so that the non-profit could purchase, deliver, and install cooling units and heat pumps in the homes of 15,000 Portland residents unable to afford such systems. An Oregonian investigation into Linda Woodley, Diversifying Energy’s founder, disclosed Woodley had been incarcerated roughly 25 years ago in connection with tax, bankruptcy, and corporate financial issues.

Far more concerning, The Oregonian‘s reporting fact-checked Diversifying Energy’s proposal and found issues that would likely have prevented the organization from actually providing the promised heating and cooling systems. The City Council (which had previously approved the grant on the recommendation of the PCEF’s grants committee) voted to rescind the grant in January. Woodley has since shared a response to the investigation and launched a lawsuit against the City of Portland. Given the focus on Woodley’s past, rather than on questions about Diversifying Energy’s ability to actually deliver on ambitious goals, the City Council’s response seems more concerned about public perceptions than results. Concerns about how grant recipients are vetted are noticeably absent from the recent PCEF audit.

Rubio and staff members in the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability shared plans to define performance metrics for PCEF by July 2022 and to create clearer strategic direction by December 2022 in a response to the audit. PCEF has already implemented a new evaluation framework for future grants. That framework is purposely structured to avoid disqualifying recipients with criminal history, despite the City of Portland rescinding the grant to Diversifying Energy due to Woodley’s past. Since sharing those plans, Andrea Durbin, the director of the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability, announced her resignation. Durbin became the bureau’s director in 2019, when the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability was still under Mayor Ted Wheeler’s oversight. Wheeler reassigned the bureau to Rubio in 2020.

The Portland Business Alliance has also weighed in on PCEF’s problems in the last week, with a letter sent to Portland’s five city commissioners, as well as to the media. PBA has opposed PCEF since its inception, due to the taxes it places on businesses. Business interests seems to be claiming Durbin’s resignation as their work.

Nurses picket Providence

More than 800 members of the Oregon Nurses Association picketed Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in the West Haven-Sylvan neighborhood in Northwestern Portland on Tuesday. They were joined by members of other unions, as well as political candidates and other community members.

The picket was not a strike. However, as ONA moves forward in negotiations with Providence medical centers, the union is scheduling actions to build community support. Union contracts with seven Providence medical centers have either already expired or will expire by the end of 2022, covering an estimated 4,000 nurses. The contract covering nurses working at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center expired in 2021. Hospitals and other medical organizations are already facing a labor shortage due to the high demands they’ve placed on staff during the pandemic so far. During negotiations, ONA hopes to address four points: strengthening patient safety standards, increasing staffing to safe levels, affordable health care for nurses, and a fair compensation package that goes beyond just keeping up with inflation.

Providence St. Joseph Health, the nonprofit which operates Providence facilities both in Oregon and in six other states, posted a loss in 2021 but also received substantial federal stimulus funds and grew its investment portfolio to $13 billion in the same time period.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.