The Hansen Shelter has been closed for more than a month now, and the future of the building and the land it sits on at Northeast 122nd Avenue and Glisan Street is slowly being worked out. Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson hosted a meeting at the East Portland Neighborhood Office on June 26 to begin the public discussion of the property’s future use. She was joined by the city’s point men from global real estate firm CBRE and approximately a dozen members of the public.
Nothing has been decided about the future of the Hansen property yet—not even whether the building will remain. “It’s probably safe,” CBRE first vice president Graham Taylor said of the half-century old, 24,000-square-foot Hansen Building, which is reputed to be quite decrepit. His colleague, CBRE Vice President Charles Safley, conceded that there are “a host of code violations” in the building that include structural and sewer issues, as well as the presence of asbestos and a fly infestation. An environmental report will be issued on it soon.
The property, which is zoned for commercial mixed use, consists of four acres that could possibly be divided into two two-acre plots, Taylor said. It was declared surplus in 2004, which means that the county can sell the property if there are no municipal uses for it.
The library system and the David Douglas School District have expressed interest in using it. David Douglas Director of Administrative Services Patt Komar was on hand to present the district’s case. The district currently leases more than 20,000 square feet of building space outside its boundaries, she said, due to a lack of land. Meanwhile, the student population it serves is expected to rise from between 2,800 and 3,000 currently to 4,200 in less than 20 years. The district particularly needs space for teacher training. “We’d really like to be in our home [area],” Komar concluded.
The library and school district could be accommodated in the back section of the plot, while the corner where the Hansen Building now stands could potentially be used for “commercial retail,” Vega Pederson suggested. She took office in January 2017 after the opening of the Hansen Shelter. She went on to mention the possibility of locating affordable housing on the site, which elicited a lively response.
Lingering problems and anger
Community member Ken Pearce, who moved to the area seven years ago after retiring from Wieden+Kennedy, suggested that a moratorium be placed on new affordable units. “This neighborhood is not opposed to helping low-income people,” he said, pointing out that there are hundreds of affordable units in the community already. “That has overwhelmed the socio-economic balance of our area … We need market-rate or upscale [housing].”
Vega Pederson pointed out that she had in mind “affordable housing” that cost 80 percent of the city-wide average, rather than federally funded, deeply subsidized housing. But the lid was off the can of worms. “Bring in people who make money,” a local business owner urged. “No affordable housing.” Another speaker suggested “entry-level bungalows” be built on the Hansen site.
“Have a conscience about what you do to us and expect us to pay our taxes, obey the law and keep our city clean,” said Jasmar Reddin, a chiropractor whose practice is located across Glisan Street from the former Target store that is now a Department of Human Services office. Rather, “anything that makes our small business and residential community thrive” would do, she added, clearly doubting that that’s what would happen.
Drug dealers and addicts have moved into the neighborhood since the Hansen Shelter opened, Reddin said. They make her tense as she walks to work, and they shoot up on the back porch of her clinic. “I want back what I had two years ago before Hansen did damage to me. And it did—personally and financially,” she said.
Community member Dawn Powell echoed Reddin’s words about the drug problem in the neighborhood. “This neighborhood has been so impacted by that shelter, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I’m still getting guys trying to camp in my yard.” She brought in drug paraphernalia she found on her way to the meeting. “Affordable housing? I’m all for it … but we’re all frightened … You can see two drug houses from here,” she added. She wanted a greater police presence in the neighborhood and a farmers’ market in the parking lot of whatever will be on the Hansen property in the future.
Hazelwood is a food desert
The corner of Northeast 122nd Avenue and Glisan Street will be desolate indeed after Aug. 18, when the Safeway opposite the Hansen Building is scheduled to close. It has been operating since 1995. According to The Oregonian, the closest grocery stores after the closing will be two WinCos within 20 blocks, a Fred Meyer and a Target at Mall 205.
“Closing an underperforming store is always a tough decision, but we are focused on growing our business by being the favorite local supermarket,” Safeway Director of Communications Jill McGinnis wrote in a statement announcing the closure in mid-July. She did not address the fact that the store was underperforming with practically no competition and declined a Mid-county Memo request to comment on the role of the Hansen Shelter in the decision to close the store. In December 2016, she had noted “increased asset protection” at the location.
The suggestion that the presence of the homeless in the neighborhood was responsible for the store closure sparked a lively exchange on the Mid-county Memo’s Facebook page. While there were many complaints about the level of street crime and number of beggars around the store, several commenters said they went out of their way to avoid the store, complaining about the pricing, the quality of the produce and, most especially, the poor customer service there.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, speaking to the Mid-county Memo after the neighborhood meeting, saw the Safeway closure as part of a larger process. “They put out a statement, and I’ve got to take them at their word,” Wheeler said. “As you know, they are retrenching all over their service network, and what they said was their sales did not justify maintaining it.” The chain closed its Jantzen Beach store in May.
Homelessness crisis still dogs Portland
The Wheeler administration’s handling of the homelessness crisis recently took a highly visible drubbing after Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner captured national headlines by calling the city “a cesspool” on Facebook. Turner’s statement came after a report by The Oregonian that found 52 percent of the arrests made by Portland police in 2017 were of homeless people, who accounted for 3 percent of the population.
“The police should be addressing car break-ins and burglaries and things like that. And increasingly what they’re doing is providing social services. The majority of police are not trained in the provision of social services,” the mayor said after the newspaper’s report had led to a complaint from the state American Civil Liberties Union and an investigation by the Independent Police Review board, requested by Police Chief Danielle Outlaw. The Portland Police have a troubling history of encounters with the mentally ill, which eventually led to the intervention of the federal Department of Justice.
Wheeler discussed the homeless situation in a more conciliatory tone with the Mid-county Memo. He has had meetings with Turner, he said. “My administration is focused relentlessly on solutions. Everything from prevention [of homelessness] to almost doubling the shelter capacity—over the last three-ish years,” he said, adding that his administration has increased the police budget “for the first time in a generation.”
Comments sought on Hansen
“Please do comment, so that we know what people want when the offers come in,” Vega Pederson told the meeting at the neighborhood center. Comments can be made through the end of August on the county’s surplus property website at multco.us/commissioner-vega-pederson/comment-future-hansen-property or by calling Commissioner Vega Pederson’s office at 503-988-5217. That website contains details about the property and its status, and the CBRE outline of the property, with a complete list of the approved uses of the property based on its zoning, can be found at multco.us/file/73885/download.
A county real estate commission will consider offers made for the use of the Hansen property beginning Sept. 18 and negotiate a purchase-sale agreement with the party they select. That agreement will be passed on to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration in January. There will be another window for public comment during the city’s deliberations.