As Portland closes in on its first real heat wave of the year, a city-backed program to install cooling units inside the homes of low-income residents is lagging behind initial plans.
The program, led by Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF), had initially hoped to have thousands of units installed by the start of the summer. But according to Portland Monthly's check-ins with the nonprofits charged with installing the units, that number has yet to crack 100.
The slow rollout might put vulnerable populations at risk as temperatures swell this weekend. “We’re still ramping up this program,” says Jaimes Valdez, organizational development and policy manager for PCEF, who says more nonprofit distributors will be added to the program next year. “This is a growing program still, and we recognize there’s a lot more demand and need out there than we’ll be able to fill, especially in this first year of distribution.”
Funding for the heat response program was authorized in December 2021 in response to last June’s deadly heat wave, which claimed 69 lives in Multnomah County alone. PCEF has plans to install 15,000 air conditioning units over the next five years, 3,000 of which are to be installed this year.
Earth Advantage, the organization which was selected by PCEF to purchase units and send them to the nonprofits chosen to do the installation work, says all units for this year have been ordered and started arriving in April.
Of the seven nonprofits tasked with installing units into homes, three confirmed to Portland Monthly this week that they had begun the process—the African American Alliance for Homeownership (AAAH), Northwest Housing Alternatives, and Verde, a nonprofit focused on climate justice. Reach CDC and APANO Communities United Fund both say they will not begin until the last week of June or early July.
Since June 9, AAAH has installed 46 units, says program manager Isaiah Kamrar, with plans to install more this weekend. “We’ve received over a hundred inquiries over the last two days,” he says. Verde, which has installed 16 units so far, plans to install four more on Monday.
“Lots of people can’t afford to buy an AC unit at our age,” says Jose Carbajal, a Portland resident in his 70s who lost some friends last year due to the heat wave. He has recently received a unit through Northwest Housing Alternatives, though the organization wasn’t able to confirm how many units they’ve installed at the time of writing.
Kymberly Horner, executive director of Portland Community Investment Initiatives, says her group has completed two pilot installations and that the organization was only recently trained in the how-tos of installation. “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 told Portland Monthly via email. Other nonprofits say they are now also looking at the beginning of July as the earliest window for installations.
“There were some delays, I believe, in the grant process, with both the units and some of the infrastructure support around how they’re tracking it,” says Sarah Holland, the director of supportive housing at Central City Concern, which plans to begin installations next week. She says the organization also had “a number of units that weren’t connected to this grant that we’ve already installed for residents who have either provided a unit or purchased one themselves.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated with clarifications.