Barely a month after siding with a slim majority to approve a plan to buy a Quality Inn in Clackamas and turn it into transitional housing, Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith reversed course Wednesday, rescinding her vote and thereby canceling the $15.2 million purchase.
The amended vote by Smith nullifies the 3-2 decision the board previously made on February 16. In a press release, she called on Clackamas County residents, businesses, local elected officials, faith leaders and members of the public to help craft solutions for homelessness and transitional housing going forward.
“The public needs more time,” Smith said. “We will not go forward with Project Turnkey at the current selected location.”
Instead, Smith outlined a three-point plan she believes will lead the state in determining future solutions, starting with a series of Clackamas County summits focusing on the causes of homelessness, accountabilities and solutions.
The summits will include the business community, faith leaders, nonprofit safety net providers, local elected officials, community volunteers and members of the public, officials said.
The Board of County Commissioners also plans to convene a blue-ribbon committee of thought leaders at the national, state and local levels to bring best practices and solutions to the table to provide transitional housing at the community level.
Finally, the county plans to bring a referral to voters on the question of whether the Legislature should overturn Measure 110, which decriminalized possession of most street drugs and which officials said “has a role to play in the growing scourge of homelessness and addiction issues.”
“While Project Turnkey would have addressed many of these issues, its acceptance in our community is premature,” Smith said. “Now, the public has the opportunity they have asked for: time. We must collaboratively solve this issue.”
The now-defunct project would have been located at an old Quality Inn close to where Southeast Sunnyside Road crosses Interstate 205. Most of the project would have been paid for with state funding and Metro affordable housing bond funds, including an approximately $8.0 million award from the Oregon Community Foundation.
Smith was joined in her rejection of the housing project Wednesday by commissioners Mark Shull and Ben West. All three mentioned what they perceived as a lack of public support for the project as a reason to pull the plug.
The project had been fiercely opposed by local business owners, residents and elected officials, including Happy Valley Mayor Tom Ellis and Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam.
In his remarks at the special meeting Wednesday, West said he hopes the steps outlined by Smith will result in “a solution for all Clackamas County.”
“The person struggling with addiction and homelessness in Molalla is just as needy and important as the person struggling in the metro area,” West said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Martha Schrader voted to approve the hotel housing project last month and maintained her position Wednesday.
Schrader acknowledged the need for “repair work” to build support for more transitional housing, but predicted it would have been successful if the county had pushed through, citing based a similar project, the Veterans Village, which she said also faced “significant pushback” before it opened in 2018.
“We took the risk anyway, and now we have an intentional community there, that is drug-free, with wraparound services, where the folks who served our country are getting the services they need — and frankly that they’ve earned — in order to move out of homelessness and to become productive members of society,” Schrader said.
Adding to the pressure for the county was a lawsuit filed earlier this month by the landlord for the nearby McMenamins Sunnyside, which argued that a deed restriction prohibited a transitional housing project from being located at the Quality Inn site.
A point-in-time homeless count conducted across Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in January 2022 found 6,633 people experiencing homelessness in the region, including 597 in Clackamas County.
The project had also boasted many supporters, including the leaders of the Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center, located just across the street.
Cole Merkel, co-director of Here Together, told KOIN News he was on a similar county blue-ribbon committee four years ago and called Smith’s plan to further study the issue “a delay tactic.”
“We need more housing, more transitional housing opportunities and we need more services to wrap around because you need that continuum to tackle homelessness,” he said.
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