Transitions Projects (TPI) is a Portland treasure. This organization celebrating 50 years of existence this year and made up of over 250 dedicated and mission driven people, is out in the community every day engaging and helping the most vulnerable people in our community to make their lives better and provide basic human needs. They provide individuals and families with services, resources and tools they need to end homelessness, secure housing and move to becoming independent and healthier citizens. We all know homelessness is a chronic, growing and complicated challenge in Portland… we all see it every day. Transitions Projects is out there day by day providing: shelter for over 800 people every night; placing over 1000 homeless into affordable housing every year and supporting them to maintain that housing and meeting the basic needs of over 500 people through their resource center in Northwest Portland . They are the safety net and catch-all for the neediest among us in our city.
Started in 1969 by a priest in old town wanting to serve the “skid row” neglected population, it went by the name of Burnside Projects and was pretty much a bootstrap operation until the early 1990’s. Under a dynamo leader of Jane McMaster, it became Transitions Projects and grew exponentially over the next 20 years to open numerous shelters in other parts of the city with the crowning achievement being the opening of the 100,000 sf Bud Clark Center in 2011, bringing over 120 units of housing in a new improved drop-in shelter and starting a much copied mode to bring numerous services together under one roof for a more cohesive and efficient delivery system. TPI is by no means standing still in this time of huge need and growing social problems. They are working on opening the unique and cutting edge Navigation Center this summer as well as a new shelter on Foster.
I had met George Devendorf the executive director over three years ago and was introduced through a mutual friend who said “George is wonderful guy and he has a somewhat crazy idea for a modular housing project and needs a site and has to be cheap”.
After spending time with George, it is not hard to come under his spell of thoughtful and low key but dedicated passion. After talking to George and seeing his vision for doing something innovative that could be a model for other cities and even countries to provide that initial rung of getting people off the streets and into housing and services it was not hard to become a believer.
I knew given budget constraints and the long runway needed to get this project financed and off the ground I knew it had to be some sort of publicly owned property and better if it was some sort of orphan site that had the right zoning. It was kind of weird happenstance but puzzles I like to tackle as I knew many of Prosper Portland’s (formerly PDC) properties that they had accumulated for years but really had not reasonable appeal into the private sector were open for ideas.
With lots of changes and getting heat from their board a few years ago and the public to size down their real estate, and a new name (Prosper Portland) they were looking for buyers for many parcels. I knew of such a neglected parcel In the Kenton neighborhood at the base of the hill down into the industrial areas along Columbia Blvd. It was the consummate orphan site and had the right zoning and just seemed toed to fit George’s vision. A visit to the site and follow up conversations with Prosper Portland gain quick momentum and it was hard to say no to George and TPI’s plan and noble crusade to really do something unique and impactful.
That was 3 years ago as it took dozens of meetings with their visionary architects at Holst, outside financing wizards to put the complicated dollars together as well as negotiations with an adjacent property owner to acquire a parcel to “round out” the site and of course getting through Prosper Portland’s obstacle course. It helped that Meyer Trust came up with a big grant to get the project going.
Now three years later it has been awesome to watch the metamorphosis of this project from concept into something that now is going to happen with them recently closing on the property and starting construction later this year. The project called LISAH (Low Income Single Adult Housing) is a dignified co-housing model designed to accommodate an optimum number of people to share community space and support. The modular system can be configured for the formerly homeless, workforce or student housing or house inter-generational families…let’s just say it is very FLEXIBLE. Phase 1 consists of four buildings containing 42 units oriented around an outdoor space. There will be 35 220 sf studio units, a large community room, laundry facilities and support and administrative services. The cool thing is that each of the buildings will be modular and constructed off-site and then put together like a jigsaw puzzle on-site.
This cutting edge project with efficient construction techniques, prefabricated elements, a maximized efficiency of space, an aesthetic typology can make LISAH’s model easily adaptable to other sites and locales across Oregon from urban neighborhoods, the Coast to east of the Cascades and all faster and less expensively (fingers crossed) than other types of traditional construction methods. Long Live LISAH AND LET IT SPREAD!
“I have worked with Todd for over 2 years for our agency’s search for properties for an innovative idea for a shelter and permanent housing project. I have been particularly impressed by Todd’s consistent level of attention and responsiveness. He also been extremely generous, with much of his support coming in the form of donated time and advice. I have appreciated his ability to quickly grasp our needs, identify possible options, help us assess the suitability of these options and use his substantial network to connect us to relevant property owners. Todd has proven to be an excellent source of advice and guidance in a very lengthy and complicated process. Finally, I would just add that Todd’s frank and humorous manner makes him fun to work with”George Devendorf/ Director of Transitions Projects.