Developer has affordable housing units ready for Portland, but city has yet to bite

Special Reports

Mindy Rex wants her shelters to house homeless people through the winter. If Portland doesn't claim them, she'll look elsewhere

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — No one knows how many people are currently living on Portland’s streets, but Mindy Rex, a former Portland resident, said she has a partial solution that would help several dozen people have beds to sleep in through the winter.

However, she’s encountering roadblocks. 

Rex owns Pacific Housing Partners in Boise, Idaho, a start-up company that uses modular construction to address affordable housing needs. Rex said she has already built units that would provide 54 small, private rooms for people and she desperately wants to place them in Portland. 

She told KOIN 6 News she has contacted city, county and state officials and is frustrated with the lack of communication and feedback she’s received on her proposals. She wants the modular units on the ground and in use for winter, but at this rate, she’s not sure if that’s going to happen. 

Rex is just the latest developer struggling to get homeless solutions on the ground and running in Portland. 

In April, KOIN 6 News spoke to developer Homer Williams about his four-part plan that he hopes will solve Portland’s homeless crisis. He plans to create tiny home communities to serve as a step between shelters and apartments where people can have their own space and utilize common services to get back on their feet. He was having discussions with the city and at the time, his goal was to open the first community in June. That still hasn’t happened. 

In June, the Portland Tribune reported that Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan planned to begin construction on six outdoor Safe Rest Villages with pod-style shelters in August. In July, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Ryan told the city council that the city would begin building the shelters in September. It’s now November, and construction hasn’t started.  

“I think the public knows that [it takes time]. These are complicated things to execute… But, it’s not an excuse for not doing something in the interim,” Rex said. 

Pacific Housing Partners’ modular units have sliding patio doors on each unit. Photo courtesy Pacific Housing Partners.

Rex lived in Portland for 20 years before moving to Boise in 2013 for a job opportunity. In those 20 years, she was working in financing affordable housing. At one time, she worked at the non-profit affordable housing lender Network for Oregon Affordable Housing. She’s worked on hundreds of affordable housing projects throughout her career and she knows how complicated it is. 

She hoped her three modular-style housing units were constructed in a way that would simplify and speed up the process of implementing them. 

Each unit includes four separate buildings. Three of the buildings are divided into six bedrooms each equipped with heat and electricity, its own locking patio door and dog door. These buildings have a bathroom for every three rooms. The fourth is a community building with a kitchen, laundry machines, another bathroom and space to meet with case managers or a space that the community can use. 

She built the units to fit Oregon RV codes. They’re on wheels and can be moved wherever they’re needed. They can plug into electrical systems or run off of generators. 

Rex is hoping a local agency, non-profit or even private citizen will agree to rent the units so she can still own them and make changes as needed. She’s asking for $7,000 a month for each combination of the four-building units, which in total includes 18 bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a kitchen and laundry machines, or $520,000 to purchase the unit of four buildings.

Rex said she’s had email exchanges with the Joint Office of Homelessness and Sam Adams, the director of strategic innovations for Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office, has attended one of her virtual presentations. But so far, no one has agreed to purchase or rent them.

KOIN 6 News asked the Joint Office of Homeless Services why it hasn’t expressed more interest in Rex’s proposal. Denis Theriault, the office’s public information officer, said they currently have dozens of proposals from affordable housing developers.

He also said the office is focusing on pod-style shelters right now, like the pallet shelters being installed in the C3PO sites and Beacon Village. He said they’re easy to install and easy to move. 

“One of the concerns is that the spaces in Pacific [Housing] Partners, the sleeping spaces were internal and they were smaller than the pods we’re using now. So, folks would have less private room within those spaces,” Theriault said. 

He said the larger size of Pacific Housing Partners’ shelters could also prove challenging with permitting and the cost is another concern. 

With the pallet shelters, the office purchased 100 pods for less than $1 million, Theriault said. To purchase Rex’s three units, which include 54 beds, 21 bathrooms and three kitchens, it would be more than $1.5 million. 

Theriault said he thinks the Joint Office of Homeless Services reached out to Rex and invited her to work with them to come up with a sleeping pod design. However, Rex said the messages she received from the Joint Office of Homeless Services showed zero interest in collaborating.

Rex told KOIN she is still open to working with agencies on modifying her designs and learning more about what they’re specifically looking for.

Mayor Wheeler’s office did not respond to KOIN’s request for an interview but said Adams was “Thrilled about the proposals set forth by Pacific Housing Partners. All options are on the table and we are excited to coordinate with them soon.” 

They said Adams has been busy with other obligations. 

In the meantime, Rex plans to drive one of the units to Portland Thursday and hopes to put it on display in a place where local officials, non-profits, and the public can take a closer look at it. She said she’s still working to determine where the site will be, but will post updates on her company’s Instagram page.   

“Maybe no one in Portland thinks this is a good idea to help the people on the street. I don’t know. But it seems as though there’s got to be a huge part of the public and a huge part of the homeless community who would think that this is better than their alternatives,” Rex said. 

She said if she doesn’t find an interested organization or individual to rent or purchase the units in Portland, she’ll move on to other locations in California, Washington or Boise.

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