Portland’s plan to install air conditioning in low-income homes is behind schedule

As Portland nears its first real heat wave of the year, a city-backed plan to install cooling units inside the homes of low-income residents is falling far behind its target goals.

The program, run by the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF), had hoped to have 3,000 units installed at the start of the summerwhich officially started three days ago. But according to Portland Monthly‘s check-ins with the nonprofits responsible for installing the units, that number has yet to reach 100.

This means that with temperatures expected to soar into the 90s this weekend, many vulnerable Portland residents, including seniors who live alone, will still be without any type of air conditioning, despite millions having been set aside for installation.

Funding for the Heat Response Program was authorized in December 2021 in response to last June’s deadly heat wave, which 69 lives in Multnomah County alone. PCEF plans to install 15,000 air conditioning units over the next five years, with 3,000 expected to be installed this year.

Earth Advantage, the organization that was selected by PCEF to purchase units and send them to nonprofits chosen to carry out the installation work, says all units for this year have been ordered and have started arriving. in April.

But of the seven nonprofits tasked with installing units in homes, only three have confirmed Portland Monthly this week that they had started the process – the African American Alliance for Homeownership (AAAH), Northwest Housing Alternatives and Verde, a nonprofit organization focused on climate justice. Reach CDC and APANO Communities United Fund both say they won’t start until the last week of June or early July.

Since June 9, AAAH has installed 46 units, program manager says Isaiah Kamrar, with plans to install more this weekend. “We’ve received over a hundred requests in the past two days,” he says. Verde, which has installed 16 units so far, plans to install four more on Monday.

“A lot of people can’t afford an air conditioning unit at our age,” says Jose Carbajal, a Portland resident in his 60s who lost friends last year to the heat wave. He recently received a unit through Northwest Housing Alternatives, although the organization was unable to confirm the number of units installed at the time of writing.

Kymberly Horner, executive director of Portland Community Investment Initiatives, says her group has completed two pilot installations and the organization was only recently trained in installation procedures. “We have a small team to do this work and are looking to hire part-time installers. We hope to start the program by July 5,” she said. Portland Monthly by email. Other nonprofits say they are also looking at early July as the first install window.

“There have been some delays, I believe, in the grant process, with the units and some of the infrastructure support around how they track it,” says Sarah Holland, director of supportive housing to Central City Concern, which plans to begin installations next week. She says the organization also had “a number of units that weren’t tied to this grant that we’ve already installed for residents who donated a unit or bought one themselves.”

Still, the slow rollout could put vulnerable populations at risk as temperatures rise this weekend. “We continue to scale up this program,” says Jaimes Valdez, head of organizational development and policy for PCEF, who says more nonprofit distributors will be added to the program next year. “This is still a growing program, and we recognize that there are many more requests and needs than we can meet, especially in this first year of distribution.”

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