Portland considers "mandatory rest spaces" for the homeless on private property

Portland, Oregon, like many cities on the left coast, is struggling with a growing homelessness crisis. But what can they do about it? One idea that’s now being floated is to change the building codes so that all new structures (including private property, not just government buildings) include spaces for people to “rest” and “feel welcome and safe.” This understandably has prospective property owners concerned, since the wording is all quite vague and suggests that they will be forced to allow the homeless to camp in and around their buildings. (KATU News)

The Planning and Sustainability Commission is hoping to define its guidelines that are spurring controversy.

Some worry a change to the city of Portland’s design review process to allow people to “rest” on private property could lead to camping.

On Nov. 12, the commission narrowly approved a change to the design process language to say, “Provide opportunities to rest and be welcome.”

Oriana Magnera introduced the idea.

The obvious questions are already being raised. What specifically does “rest” mean in this context? Does that mean that new buildings will have to include spaces for the “unhoused” (their word) where they will be “protected from the weather?” That’s basically just an invitation for people to come trespass and stay there.

Since this was the brainchild of a member of the Planning and Sustainability Commission (the group that reviews and approves new construction designs), I suppose we should ask them. The problem is all of the members have refused all requests for comment on what this means, including the person who added the new provision into the proposal.

The chair of the commission, however, did offer a written statement. It described their discussion and the fact that they were interested in seeing, “how private development can provide places for people to feel welcome and safe, as well as allow space for people to rest, especially in light of our current housing shortage.”

I don’t see how further clarification is going to make that sound any better. What this clearly seems to boil down to, if approved, is a situation where if you want to have your design for a new building approved you’ll need to build into your plans some spaces for the homeless to build camps.

While I’m sure there are many good-hearted people out there who would like to help the homeless as much as possible, this seems outlandish. If you’re making the investment to construct a new home or business in Portland, you really don’t want to open up on day one with an invitation for a homeless encampment to show up immediately. That entails costly clean-up tasks on a regular basis and the risk of increased crime, literally right on your doorstep.

It’s the city’s job to address the homelessness crisis. Any generous, willing residents are free (and encouraged) to help with the problem. But this sort of mandate from on high about every new structure allowing homeless encampments should encourage even more people to flee Portland and move somewhere with a local government that still exhibits a modicum of sanity and respect for its taxpayers.