Oregon’s Project Turnkey Report to the Oregon State Legislature
Homelessness and housing insecurity are often described as intractable problems, so entrenched and complex that they seem nearly impossible to solve. Project Turnkey is the story of what Oregon can accomplish when communities, business, government and philanthropy join forces to take bold action.
Headed into 2020, Oregon had a deficit of more than 5,800 emergency shelter beds. When COVID-19 struck, existing shelters were no longer safe, and people with housing who needed to isolate or quarantine often lacked adequate space to do so.
Then, the Labor Day fires destroyed more than 4,000 homes across eight counties. With winter looming, the one-two punch of the pandemic and the fires had nearly doubled Oregon’s already severe deficit of emergency shelter beds.
“Shelter is never the end result. It’s always only a gateway to permanent housing. The beauty of this model is that it allows both in a single investment.”
OCF PROGRAM OFFICER
The public-private Project Turnkey Partnership emerged with a strategic plan to address both immediate and long term housing needs. Members called on the Legislature to allocate grant funding that would allow community organizations to buy local motels and convert them into emergency shelters. These new facilities would keep residents safe from COVID-19, provide a comfortable, short-term refuge to people who lost homes in the fires, and eventually convert to permanent housing inventory.
HOW DID PROJECT TURNKEY WORK?
In November 2020, lawmakers approved $65 million for Project Turnkey. In June 2021, they approved a further $9.7 million to fund three properties that completed due diligence after the initial funds were fully allocated.
The Legislature named Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) as Project Turnkey’s fiscal agent and administrator. In this role, OCF relied on an advisory committee with expertise in and lived experience of housing insecurity, which vetted applicants and selected grantees. OCF retained two expert real estate consultants who conducted due diligence to ensure properties were quality assets. Oregon Housing and Community Services, the League of Oregon Cities, and the Association of Oregon Counties were also key partners in this work.
Applicants had to show community support, adequate operational funding, and plans for wraparound services to move shelter guests from crisis to stability. Grantees pledged to prioritize people needing COVID-19 isolation as well as communities disproportionately affected by the fires, the pandemic and homelessness.
WHAT DID PROJECT TURNKEY ACHIEVE?
Project Turnkey aimed to create new temporary housing and to do it quickly and economically. It succeeded on both counts:
- In less than seven months, Project Turnkey created 19 new shelters in 13 counties, leading to a 20% increase in the state supply of shelter beds. These facilities comprise 865 new housing units.
- Project Turnkey sites were developed for less than half (and in many cases, less than a third) of the typical cost for affordable housing. Statewide, the average cost per unit of affordable housing is $226,000. The average unit cost for Project Turnkey properties was $87,700—more than 50% less costly.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Before 2020, it was clear that alleviating our housing and homelessness crisis required involvement from all parts of the state. Today, Project Turnkey shows that:
- Oregon has the will and capacity to bring communities,
business, government and philanthropy together to reduce homelessness, improve lives and strengthen our social fabric.
- Such efforts can succeed in months instead of years, and bold, strategic risk-taking pays off.
- Small and large communities are eager for help with the housing crisis and often know best how to help their neighbors move from crisis to stability.
Federal housing officials have since pointed to Project Turnkey as an efficient, cost-effective model for states that need to create more shelter.
While it will take many innovative solutions to address Oregon’s housing-related crises, Project Turnkey stands as a powerful example of what can happen when public and private partners join forces and act boldly to make a
difference for neighbors in need.