PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Three people are suspected to have died from heat-related illnesses in the Portland area so far this week, all while hundreds of air conditioner and heat pumping units designated for at-risk and low-income Portlanders sit in a warehouse.
The program to distribute and install the units is handled by the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, overseen by Commissioner Carmen Rubio. Despite less than a third of the units installed, Rubio says she is “pleased” with the program’s rollout so far.
“We asked them to speed up that program, the temperatures are getting hot and they did and it’s been going really well,” Rubio responded, just before Thursday’s afternoon city council meeting.
The city has tasked the organization Earth Advantage with purchasing and storing the units. Earth Advantage will then work with non-profits and community-based organizations to distribute and install the units.
Earth Advantage reports it purchased 3,010 units and Rubio’s spokesperson says installations began on June 9th. Earth Advantage’s website reports a total of 50 units were installed throughout June. Supply chain and staffing problems at the organizations tasked with installing the units have been cited by Rubio’s office. Today, the Commissioner tells KOIN 6 that more partners have been brought in to help install the units.
Last week, 240 units were installed.
“They actually were identified and then they expanded even more than that, they reached out even more than that so they’ve been very responsive to the pace we are asking them to speed up. Just today they got out even more, so we’re pleased with the response they’ve had with us,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s office has not responded to a clarification request of when those requests for more organizations to help with the installation were made.
The Earth Advantage website reports just 31 percent of units have been installed with three days left in July, a total of 938. 790 units are still in a warehouse, and the website lists 1,588 units ‘picked up.’
Earth Advantage’s PR company Gard Communications has not responded to KOIN’s request to clarify where units that are not installed or not in the warehouse are in the installation process.
Earth Advantage gave a timeline of being able to install all units by the end of summer, for the first year of a program that is supposed to install 15,000 units by 2026.
“We would have loved to get them out before the need arose but this is the time that it takes. They’ve been working as fast as they can. We’ve been asking for status reports and it’s been moving as fast as it can possibly move,” Rubio said.
Multnomah County and the State of Oregon have other, separate programs to install cooling units.
Staffing issues for nonprofits have been cited by Rubio’s office as reasons why more units have not been installed. An emergency has been declared by the state to, in part, make state employees and resources available to help.
When asked if she has requested any of that assistance to help in cooling unit installation, Rubio said it was not her place, instead pointing to the Bureau of Emergency Management.
In reaching out to PBEM, the bureau said they are partnering with Multnomah County and the county is handling those requests for the area. A lengthy list from Multnomah County was provided for where state resources are being used, including for large-scale air conditioners at the county and city cooling centers, though no mention of residential air conditioning unit installation was made.