Demand for Project Turnkey Sky-High, says OCF Senior Officer

Oregon Community Foundation
Megan Loeb, senior program officer of economic vitality and housing at the Oregon Community Foundation

Megan Loeb of the Oregon Community Foundation explains why cities are clamoring to try Oregon’s unique homelessness solution.

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Last week the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners voted 5-3 to approve purchasing the 100-room Quality Inn located at 9717 SE Sunnyside Road in Clackamas for $15.2 million to provide housing and mental health services for people experiencing homelessness.

More than 50% of the funds to purchase the hotel came from Project Turnkey, a $115 million statewide fund to help cities buy hotels to shelter people experiencing homelessness. The Quality Inn was the biggest in the project’s history, and drew widespread public comment, and criticism, from residents of Clackamas County.

Cities apply for Project Turnkey funds through the Oregon Community Foundation, which serves at the fund’s fiduciary and administrator. The OCF has provided funds to purchase 22 properties across the state since 2021.

Once the hotels are purchased, cities operate these hotel projects on their own, often with the help of community organizations.

Megan Loeb, senior program officer of economic vitality and housing at OCF, says the initial two phases of Project Turnkey have shown a great appetite for these hotel transition projects in rural and metro areas of the state. She tells Oregon Business Project Turnkey is having data collected on how its hotel projects affect outcomes of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and that the project is providing cities with an independent way to curate and manage their own unique needs when it comes to fighting their own unique homelessness situations.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On Feb. 18, Oregonlive reported of the 1,700 homeless Portlanders offered shelter during citywide encampments sweeps in the last 10 months, 89% remained unsheltered. How does Project Turnkey’s approach differ from conventional approaches to solving homelessness?

I believe strongly that Project Turnkey is transformational because you’re providing dignified shelter, a room with a door that locks, and the ability to decompress, to stabilize, to have an address, and to have services brought onsite.

At The Arches for example, in downtown mid-Willamette Valley run by the Community Action Agency, they have medical professionals who come onsite to make appointments and meet with folks there. They also have behavioral health folks who come onsite and are able to provide help with identification and documents, which is a big concern for folks who are looking to stabilize to get a job.

It’s about bringing the services to an individual at a place where they are able to feel safe, where they’re able to bring loved ones. If you’re in a congregate shelter, oftentimes you’re separated from a loved one. In a non-congregate setting like a hotel room, you can even bring your pet.

In many shelter environments, if you have a child of the opposite gender who’s over the age of 12, you’re separated in a congregate shelter, and that doesn’t feel like a safe option for your family. So, this is a better alternative for those reasons.

When Project Turnkey gets an application, how does it determine whether or not the project will be a good investment?

Project Turnkey is an example of a public-private partnership that leverages the strengths of each of the partners to create solutions.

What we’re looking for is a history of provision of services to people experiencing homelessness, strong community partnerships, and connections to culturally specific providers. If they’re not a culturally specific entity, we’re looking at an equitable framework for the distribution, we also were looking at a diverse geographic distribution of the funds around the state.

We also were looking at qualities of the properties themselves. Part of the due diligence process includes an independent appraisal and a full property inspection which also includes an environmental review.

In 2021 we helped purchase 19 properties around the state in 13 different counties. We had a total of 32 applicants this year, with 12 of those projects moving forward.

Before receiving its second round of funding, Project Turnkey presented data to the legislature showing the project led to a 20% increase in the state supply of shelter beds. How are you currently collecting data on the people served by the project, and tracking their outcomes?

Oregon Housing and Community Services are working on a formative evaluation of Project Turnkey. They’ve contracted with Portland State University’s Homelessness Research Action Collaborative and are in early phases of conducting an evaluation of Project Turnkey 1.0’s recipients.

How has Project Turnkey’s process changed between its first and second round of implementation?

One way we changed our process from 1.0 to 2.0 is that legislatively, we had a broader definition of eligible properties. So, in addition to hotels and motels, we now have an expanded definition that includes other existing structures that can be readily converted to shelter and temporary housing. That has allowed some of our more rural communities who weren’t able to find a good fit through the first round in hotels and motels to be able to submit an application for a better-sized solution, or for some other properties in the cases where there may not have been any hotels or motels for sale in their county.

A second change is a longer application window. What we heard from applicants was that the first round didn’t allow for enough time for the type of deep community engagement that needs to happen, and sometimes at the local level to put an application together. And so we had a longer application window, this time to allow for more community engagement or collaboration for local level to prepare applications.

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One concern voiced by the project’s critics is that it is financially unsustainable, and we won’t be able to afford the cost of staffing the facilities and generating $65 million or $50 million investments every year. What would you say to critics of the project two who say that Project Turnkey is an unwise expenditure of state funds?

I would argue that this is a strategic investment. These are one-time dollars that have been invested in local communities for an asset that they can own and steward for the long term. This is not leasing hotel rooms where the only thing left at the end of the day is a longer receipt for the city. This is an asset that these properties that these providers now own, are able to operate and are able to take the funding that they might have used to lease hotel rooms, and instead invest that back into supportive services into wraparound services, and into more stability for the guests that they hope to serve.

I listened in to the Clackamas County meeting last week and saw the numbers presented by Adam Brown at Clackamas County, where he demonstrated that right now, they spend a little over $4 million a year renting hotel rooms. Under the new assets that they own, it will be about a million dollars in operations per year. So that means the $3 million dollars that they were previously spending per year to lease hotel rooms can be used to help more adequately resolve people’s housing instability.

This investment not only meets the short-term need of shelter right now but has the potential to convert these buildings into transitional housing or permanent supportive housing or other types of affordable housing later on.

These are assets that right now are meeting the immediate need of shelter and longer term could be converted to address the root cause of our housing crisis, which is a lack of abundant affordable housing stock in our state.

This way we are providing a permanent source of curative homeless infrastructure.

What is the status of the Project Trunkey funds? Will Project Turnkey have a third phase of funding?

We anticipate that all $50 million from Project Turnkey 2.0 funds will be allocated by June.

We also have 11 additional properties on our waiting list – high-quality applications that our advisory committee was very confident would be stellar sites for Project turnkey, that unfortunately, we do not have funds for at this time. That tells you that there is demand around the state for this solution.

We will also have some really exciting news to share by mid-March.

And I don’t know what the future holds, but I do really believe in the promise of this model. And I do believe that when Oregonians come together in the way that we have, through Project Turnkey through this public private partnership, that we can find solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors.

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