Portland officials are looking for alternative ways to house homeless people after a location they had identified for a temporary emergency shelter fell through because of the rules of the city’s new Green New Deal building ordinance.

The city has said since late last month that it has been working with the state to open a temporary emergency shelter off-peninsula in Portland to accommodate record numbers of homeless individuals. As of last week, the city was housing about 1,700 people on a nightly basis, about 500 of whom are homeless individuals while the rest are families, primarily of asylum seekers.

A top housing adviser to Gov. Janet Mills said in late May that he hoped to see a temporary shelter for homeless individuals open this month, and two hotels that have been housing homeless people in South Portland agreed to continue doing so through the end of June while plans were made for that shelter.

“The location we were working on to provide a temporary emergency shelter, with assistance from the state, did fall through because it would have been subject to requirements as part of the newly implemented green new deal ordinance,” city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email Thursday.

In 2020, voters in Portland passed a citizen-led referendum for the “Green New Deal for Portland,” which updated and changed the city’s green building codes, added labor rules for city-funded projects and requires more affordable housing units in certain developments.

“These requirements would have prevented us from being able to operate this space in the very short time we needed,” Grondin said. “In fact, it would have added at least six months to the time period necessary to complete the renovations, and the cost would have increased dramatically.”


Grondin would not disclose the location where the city had been hoping to open the emergency shelter.

The plans for a temporary shelter were also discussed briefly during an Emergency Shelter Assessment Committee meeting Thursday morning. The committee is a collaborative of service providers, local and state government representatives, advocates and others working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of homeless people in Portland.

An asylum seeker sits in a Yarmouth hotel in April. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Aaron Geyer, the city’s director of social services, had been scheduled to provide an update on hotel closures and congregate space for emergency housing, but he was not at the meeting. Instead, Adam Harr, an executive assistant in the social services division, told the committee that the city’s efforts to get the temporary shelter open quickly had not been successful.

“I think it was both cost and logistics,” said Harr, who noted that the city is planning to open a new, permanent homeless services center in Riverton in late spring or early summer 2023. That center will house 208 people and replace the existing Oxford Street Shelter, which does not have the capacity for the numbers the city is seeing.

Grondin said the city is working to find alternative housing solutions in the meantime.

“As you can imagine, this is very fluid and has many moving parts, and so we will update you further when we have more information to share,” she said.

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