Shelter in St. Johns overcomes huge challenges to reopen after renovations

Dogged determination coupled with assistance provided by over 500 volunteers, companies and coh_bod community organizations helped Community of Hope in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood reopen its shelter for homeless women and their children after extensive renovations led by the Home Builders Foundation (HBF). “While this was one of our smaller projects, it turned out to be one of the most complex and difficult we’ve encountered.” explains Ken Cowdery, HBF Executive Director. “The biggest difficulty was fighting the City of Portland over its development fees such as system development charges (SDC’s) and unnecessary building requirements that added tens of thousands of dollars to the project’s budget. This should not have happened during the city’s homelessness state of emergency, and it delayed reopening the shelter and it put a real financial strain on a small organization simply trying to help homeless women and children secure safe, dignified shelter.” he adds.

Renovation work was provided by Clear Water Construction Services who served as the HBF Builder Captain, ran the project as one of their own, and donated their profit and overhead. It is estimated that $65,000 of in-kind labor and materials will have been donated by over thirty vendors that worked in partnership with HBF and Clear Water on this project.  Renovations included increasing the shelter’s capacity from five to eight families, adding laundry facilities, shower rooms and an additional bathroom, enlarging and upgrading the kitchen, making ADA upgrades to the facility, bringing the entire building up to code, and creating a beautiful living space for the residents. “It’s more than a shelter now. It’s a home where women and children in crisis can get settled and receive the help they need to get back on their feet, program director Linda Jo Devlaeminck said at the dedication event.

“To their credit some city bureaus did waive some fees and requirements and we are grateful, but it took livingaftermonths.” explains Cowdery. Regarding building requirements, the shelter was told to widen a seldom used sidewalk behind the shelter and that they conduct a neighborhood traffic study. “It was the development fees that really hurt the most and almost stopped the project.” Cowdery notes. At one point fees totaled over $52,000 on the project’s $180,000 renovation budget before some bureaus began dropping their fees. “We were desperate and began pleading with them.” Cowdery explains. “I kept asking them if there had been an earthquake would you tell shelters they had to do traffic studies and widen sidewalks before they could open?”

Eight single parent families, up to 32 people, will now be able to use the shelter to get back on their feet and move on to permanent housing. The shelter is also trying to catch up on lost time in its fund raising efforts and hopes to find a permanent source of long term funding.

After learning more about the difficulties Community of Hope faced, Portland City Council has begun addressing many fees related to shelter and affordable housing development. “These fees adversely affect all types of housing development including shelters and add significant costs that are then transferred to home buyers and shelter operators.” Cowdery notes. “All municipalities should take a look at this issue.”