December 03, 2020

Project Turnkey to Deliver Immediate Shelter and Permanent Housing for 1,000 Oregonians 

Amidst a housing crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 and devastating wildfires, a collaborative public/private partnership leverages a one-time opportunity to address two housing needs with one investment.

“Project Turnkey,” funded with a $65 million allocation from the state of Oregon’s Emergency Board, will support the acquisition of 18-20 motels for about 1,000 units of shelter. The units will serve as shelter that meets social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OCF will be managing and deploying grants in two waves: $30 million to fire-impacted communities and $35 million to communities throughout the state with expressed need for safely-distanced shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Community-based organizations will apply for funding from OCF to acquire motels or hotels and operate the shelters. Long term, properties will convert to meet future housing needs of the community, addressing the gap in transitional and affordable housing.

An unprecedented need for housing

Oregon’s housing issues were already at crisis before the pandemic and wildfires hit. Pre-pandemic, tens of thousands of Oregonians were experiencing homelessness — the same communities who are experiencing devastating impacts from the pandemic.

The last few months of cascading crises have exacerbated widespread, acute and disproportionate challenges in communities – particularly for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and rural Oregonian communities: food insecurity, job losses, small business failures, children struggling to learn.

Safe and supportive shelter is needed for people displaced by wildfires, by those experiencing homelessness, and for agricultural farmworkers who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Most winter shelters in Oregon operate under a shared sleeping space model that is not possible during the pandemic.

Communities around Oregon are scrambling to identify solutions — from leasing motels to pop-up villages to sanctioned campsites.

New analysis projects a 45% increase in homelessness by December, a catastrophic level that will further exacerbate health and economic woes. Oregon is not prepared to meet this level of demand.

Assembling a public/private/civic partnership

OCF has been studying Oregon’s dual crises of homelessness and affordable housing, beginning with research commissioned from ECONorthwest, “Homelessness in Oregon” which provided statewide analysis of a disproportionately large homeless population in Oregon. OCF is convening partners and donors, making investments and pursuing solutions to the affordable housing crisis as a necessary step to ensuring community stability and the health and success of Oregon’s children and families.

In April 2020, OCF joined with state, local, and private partners to help provide technical assistance to counties as part of their planned phased re-openings during COVID, which required making socially distanced shelter available to people in their communities who were vulnerable to COVID or needed to isolate or quarantine but did not have access to non-congregate settings.

As OCF engaged in the technical assistance – which involved leasing motel rooms for shelter – a potential opportunity emerged. Project Turnkey emerged from a similar model in California, where hotel and motel acquisition offered both immediate shelter and properties that could be retained as cost-effective housing after the pandemic. The Oregon coalition of state, local, and private organizations agreed to explore the concept.

Scope, Scale, Context

Recovery and rebuilding in Oregon will be a slow process - with immediate housing needs difficult to meet. An already tight housing market with low vacancy rates means scarce temporary housing, even for those who can afford to pay for it.

Motels are already configured for individual residency and offer dignity for families - particularly those who have experienced trauma, are transgender, survivors of domestic violence and survivors of PTSD.

Local partners are already implementing successful motel placement programs in Marion County, renting units from motel owners for families experiencing homelessness or who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19.

By purchasing motels instead of renting rooms, Oregon can scale this approach cost-effectively and efficiently, providing more housing to more people as demand grows. At the same time, many motel owners suffering in this economy — the majority owned and operated as small businesses — get the chance to economically stabilize and hold onto their life savings.

Oregon will spend an estimated $18.3 million a year to rent 1,000 units of shelter. The state allocation of $65 million will permanently add those rooms to our housing supply. Local communities will have rental dollars freed up to support ongoing operations of these facilities and provide wrap-around services to help address inequitable access to resources among BIPOC people, veterans, families and rural Oregonians.

Project Turnkey addresses changing housing needs throughout the COVID pandemic and cold winter months, during recovery and beyond. As Oregon grapples with a chronic scarcity of affordable housing, Project Turnkey may serve as a pragmatic model for community-based solutions to Oregon’s housing crisis.