County donates surplus property to help house women in recovery

March 13, 2015

Mary Li (far left) and Kay Toran CEO of Volunteers of America Oregon (center) share a laugh at Thursday's board meeting.

At Thursday’s meeting the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution donating surplus county property to Volunteers of America Oregon.

The property, located at  722, 732, and 736 N.E. Couch Street, will serve as a temporary place for women in recovery and their children to live as they learn how to maintain sobriety and become more self-sufficient. 

Theresa Willett, director of Volunteers of America Oregon’s Women’s Treatment Program told the board that the women who will qualify to stay in the low-income housing have a myriad of obstacles to contend with when it comes to landing on their feet.

“Everyone’s got a chemical dependency, everyone’s struggling with criminality, and most of the women have a free standing mental health issue as well,” said Willett.  

“They’ve come from histories of multi-generational poverty. Challenges with employment, abuse, domestic violence, etc.”

Willette explained that the property, which has been dubbed the “Couch Street Houses,” will house about 10 women and possibly eight children for nine-month stays at a time. During their time at the Couch Street Houses, residents will pay very low rent and receive case management services from Volunteers of America (VOA) staff onsite.

Willette stressed the importance of helping future Couch Street Houses residents focus on long-term housing, education and employment. 

“Working with them is not just about providing treatment, it’s about engaging with them and helping them rebuild their lives,” said Willette.  

Chair Kafoury at Thursday's board meeting.

Mary Li of the Department of County Human Services told the board that the tax foreclosure properties process “occurred with a full public vetting and procurement process.” 

“VOA was selected as the strongest proposer in response to the offering of the properties. And over the last two years we have done a lot of due diligence to make sure this transfer was going to work for the county’s business needs but also for Volunteers of America’s needs,” said Li.

Volunteers of America Oregon president and CEO Kay Toran expressed her gratitude for the county’s donation of its surplus property, which is just three block away from VOA Oregon Offices.   

“Housing is a huge issue in our community, and it’s particularly an issue for our population,” Toran said. “The vulnerable population who have successfully completed treatment and need housing if they’re going to have a stable and relapse-free future.”

The Multnomah County Department of Community Justice also had a stake in the transfer of property, as many of the women who receive services at VOA’s Women’s Treatment Center may also be under supervision by the Department of Community Justice.

Ginger Martin, deputy director for the Department of Community Justice told the board that her department is ready to contract services with VOA’s Women’s Treatment Program immediately and that the Department of Community Justice has been partnering with VOA for 25 years.

Before the board formally approved the transfer of the Couch Street Houses to VOA, Chair Deobrah Kafoury expressed how important she feels it is to have affordable housing available in inner-Portland.  

“The reality is we’re stuck with an inner-city that is completely unaffordable for anybody but the highest of income,” said Chair Kafoury. “I don’t want to live in a community and I don’t think my colleagues or any of you want to live in a community like that.”

“Sure, we could sell them [the Couch Street Houses] and someone could develop a beautiful, non-affordable housing complex but that’s really not true to the mission of Multnomah County.”