Housing first fails

The official line in Portland is that we're going to build our way out of the tent camping crisis, because the real problem is not enough cheap apartments. Forget the fact that the most of the street people have mental health and addiction problems that we're barely lifting a finger to address. More apartments is always the answer.

To see where that kind of thinking leads, we have this story – and now this one, too – about a tax-subsidized, "transit-oriented" "affordable housing" project called the Buri Building, on Glisan Street where it starts to get sketchy out toward 100th. Less than three years old, the building is already a complete nightmare.  

Tenants let homeless friends in from the street who shoot up in the stairways, sleep on couches in common areas, smoke fentanyl in the elevators, and vandalize plumbing. They pound and pry at residents’ doors. People defecate in the stairways (this reporter observed an impressive log that had been sitting for hours).

The elevators are often broken, making it difficult for tenants who use mobility scooters to get around. When WW visited, the down button on the fourth floor had been pried off and left on the floor. Lately, a woman from the street has been roaming the halls with a hatchet, tenants say.

A log of emergency calls confirms the conditions. In 2022 alone, police, fire and medical personnel have responded to six calls about stabbings, 17 for assault, four about shots fired, seven for vandalism, eight on restraining order violations, and one labeled “death–obvious–cold/stiff.”

The building’s management company doesn’t respond, Lumsden and others say. There is no one to call after 5 pm or on weekends, even in emergencies.

The landlord of this hellhole? Why, one of our wonderful local nonprofits, of course.

The LLC that owns the Buri is controlled by Northwest Housing Alternatives, which calls itself “the leading not-for-profit developer of affordable housing in Oregon.” The property is managed by Cascade Management, a firm that oversees 11,000 units in 250 different developments across Oregon....

The developer, a nonprofit called Northwest Housing Alternatives, used a tax-exempt bond program and low-income housing tax credits to finance construction and got public money from an alphabet soup of sources, including $175,000 from Metro, the regional government, that’s earmarked for buildings near mass transit. 

This is what we're throwing hundreds of millions of tax dollars at? Not encouraging. These buildings are the modern-day equivalent of what 75 years ago were known as "The Projects." They were bad when they were run by local government housing authorities directly, and they may be turn out to be even worse when being run by the nonprofit industrial complex.

Meanwhile, the "tiny house" solution is having some rough moments, too. Remember when the county tried to sweet-talk people into letting the bureaucrats build free tiny houses in their backyards and have "people experiencing houselesness" move in? Well, a few suckers took the bait – people experiencing naïveté, as it were – and four houses were built. The homeowners say it didn't work out, and their tenants are gone.

“The woman who was living here and her niece were living in her truck prior,” Chambers explained.

Initially, things went well — but then, relationships soured. There were challenging circumstances causing stress among neighbors, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

Within two years, the once-homeless family had ditched the program and moved out. Chambers’ backyard unit sat vacant for months, then years.

Chambers explained there was little support or follow-through from program organizers.

“I felt abandoned,” said Chambers....

LaMar said the program needed greater accountability and oversight. Instead, it was handed off from one agency to the next — with no one taking ownership.  

“I wish our county had the foresight to plan and commitment,” said LaMar....

In 2017, Mary Li, director of the Multnomah Idea Lab, told reporters that if all went well, she hoped to build as many as 300 of the tiny homes in the next year. Instead, the program turned out just four units.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have any information to share about the work,” said Li in a recent email to KGW. “The Project was transferred to the Joint Office on Homeless Services several years ago.”

It has since been handed over to the nonprofit JOIN, according to a county spokesperson.

Multnomah County did not respond to a list of questions regarding the program.

“There was just no follow through,” said Chambers, who recently bought the tiny house after coming to an agreed-up price with JOIN, which inherited the program.

The program bombed, but funny thing, a nonprofit got a check. How perfectly Portland. 

Oregon needs a big new mental hospital and a big new detox and rehab facility. And probably a new prison, too. Instead we're determined to go with free apartments and tiny houses. What a waste of time and money.


  1. And who do we find behind Cascade Management?

    1. Betcha Cascade Management ain’t no non-profit.

  2. The only way to deal with drug addiction of the type we have here, is to remove the person from the drugs and retrain their brain. Otherwise all of this housing nonsense is a complete waste of money. No one has any stomach for dealing with this reality. So the deaths and disorder will continue to get worse.


  3. No drug treatment no apartment.

  4. let's crowd-source fund billboards with this line of bojack's, please, and install it in City Council, the Oregon Legislature, and whatever dark dungeon the County conducts its business in:

    "Oregon needs a big new mental hospital and a big new detox and rehab facility. And probably a new prison, too."

  5. Many decades ago I was traveling with friends past a large, low income, housing project. In the group was a cranky old man. He said “it’ll be a slum in 15 years”. He was roundly chastised.
    I guess you know what eventually happened.

  6. No prophet is honored in his own time.

  7. Any publicly funded or supported housing projects in Portland have been a scam for the last 40 years.

    1. Scams were once the life blood of journalists.
      My, how we’ve regressed.

  8. But wait, the *real* problem is that we aren't paying homeless service workers enough money...https://www.koin.com/local/multnomah-county/low-wages-slow-use-of-homeless-services-funds/

  9. This result really comes as no surprise. Portland's model is broken, but we've invited the two-headed monster of unhoused and non-profits into the house, so we have to deal with that. We need a disrupter to "tough love" us through this. What's been done over the last few decades isn't working and is only pouring good money down the drain. We need options for people who are unhoused for purely economic purposes (housing, jobs, training), addicts (rehab then housing, jobs, training), non-violent criminals (incarceration, rehab, housing, jobs, training), violent criminals (incarceration with parole option), and the mentally ill (facility for rehab or permanent stay). Repeat instances would be treated more aggressively.

    1. Repeat offenders would get a good talking-to.


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