Portland’s City Council voted to take up an item not on their agenda Monday night that would help Avesta Housing purchase a development aimed at housing asylum seekers.
The measure concerns the Winchester Woods development on Dalton Street, and was brought forward by Councilor Regina Phillips. Phillips was concerned Avesta was running out of time to close on the property, and said the city needed to act to address a crucial housing need.
“The only thing I can have in my head is this deal for Avesta is for housing,” Phillips said, adding that there are still questions to be answered about the project. “I bring this forward only because the goal is housing and that is in jeopardy if we don’t bring this up.”
The city is facing a housing deadline. Contracts with hotels that have been housing asylum seekers are slated to end sometime in February, according to Interim City Manager Danielle West, who said the city was on “slightly borrowed time” for sheltering people in hotels.
The Council discussed this project as a workshop in November. Avesta had applied for $5 million of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding. However, they needed to close on the property faster than ARPA funding could be applied, Avesta sought about $3.2 million from the city’s housing trust fund and another $1 million of ARPA funding.
A Dec. 19 memo from Mary Davis, the interim director of housing and economic development, said while staff wanted to recommend this project to the Council, they “cannot in good conscience do so at this time given an absence of documentation related to the project.”
Phillips’s attempt to pass this measure as an emergency would have seen it approved with several conditions, such as receiving an appraisal to support the purchase price of the building, plus written confirmation that the 48 units will be used for asylum seekers, among other conditions.
City staff expect the appraisal by the end of the year, Davis said. Staff have not received responses from Avesta about conditions laid out for appraisal, according to interim City Manager Danielle West.
Councilors approved taking up the item 7-2, with Mayor Kate Snyder and Councilor Mark Dion opposed. A motion to waive the second reading and bypass public comment to go straight to a final vote failed 8-1, with Phillips as the only vote in support.
The proposed measure will return for a public hearing and vote at the Jan. 4, 2023 meeting.