The cage at the front desk of the Grove Hotel has been removed, and you can smell the paint as soon as you enter the unfinished lobby from West Burnside Street.
Construction crews are completing work on the ground-floor offices this month, and soon the once-blighted 70-room residential hotel will officially reopen as crisis housing for Central City Concern.The Housing Authority of Portland bought the Grove late last year as part of an ongoing effort by the city and advocates for the homeless to upgrade low-income residential hotels on the west side. The Grove has a limited future, thanks to embryonic plans for a residential/retail development that will require its demolition.
But for the next several years, the massive makeover will provide dozens of homeless people with emergency transitional housing. It’s also a big upgrade for the two dozen residents who have remained throughout the renovation. They have better lighting, sinks in the restrooms, new floors and responsible management.
“It’s cleaner now,” says Debra Blehm, who has lived at the Grove for 13 years. “I think that’s the biggest difference.”
The Grove, at 421 W. Burnside, had been owned for nearly six decades by the family of Morris Hasson and has a long and gritty history as one of the city’s most notorious low-income hotels.
Cockroaches skittered across the floors. Garbage piled up in the rooms. City inspectors found more than 480 code violations, and Commissioner Randy Leonard called the living conditions inhumane.
So, Leonard and Erik Sten, his former colleague on the City Council, put together a deal in which the Housing Authority would buy the Grove for $1.8 million and be reimbursed by the Portland Development Commission. The PDC is also paying for the $875,000 renovation, which started in February.
There were 33 people living at the Grove when it was sold. Since then, four have moved with the help of the Housing Authority. Five left after lease violations.
The remaining residents are welcome to stay as long as they want, says Traci Manning, the chief operating officer for Central City Concern. The rest of the rooms will be used for the agency’s Housing Rapid Response program, which provides temporary housing for people living on the street.
“It’s designed to be transitional,” Manning says. “People get stabilized and ideally move on to something better.”
Residents in the program, currently housed at a building at Northwest Second Avenue and Couch Street, will work with case managers and take classes to prepare them to move into more permanent quarters.
Central City Concern will manage the building for the Housing Authority, but it’s unclear how long the partnership will last.
Ultimately, the Housing Authority will transfer ownership of the building to the PDC so it can be part of a two-phase mixed-use project. The first phase of the development is expected to include a Uwajimaya Asian grocery and about 140 affordable apartments on the block north of the Grove. The second phase could include a mix of office and retail space.
The low-income housing will be replaced at the Housing Authority’s resource access center, which will be built on a block between Northwest Broadway and Sixth Avenue and Irving and Hoyt streets.
But even though the Grove’s life span is limited, it was an important project, given the dearth of quality housing for the poor, says Mike Andrews, the Housing Authority’s director of development and community revitalization.
“Being able to have those 70 units available for three to five years is no small thing,” he says.