Vulnerable Portlanders respond to city’s ‘Heat Response Program’ amid heat wave

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 6:54 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Residents at Argyle Gardens in North Portland say it’s ‘life-changing’ to finally have air conditioning units in their apartments.

Argyle Gardens, which is a property managed by Transition Projects, recently installed AC units inside residents’ units thanks to the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund’s (PCEF) Heat Response Program.

This program was created late last year by the city in response to Summer 2021′s deadly June heat wave and enlists local nonprofits to help distribute and install air conditioning and heating units.

For these residents, this experience of this summer’s heatwave is very different than last year.

“Last year at this time it probably would’ve been 104 at least,” said Leo Gibson sitting in front of his new AC unit. “There’s times I would wet down a sheet and just put it on me and let the fan blow on it to cool my body down.”

For Gibson, having air conditioning makes a world of difference to his health.

“I only have one lung and I’m on inhalers and everything so getting the fresh air to me I can breathe a lot better.”

Ayanna Askari also remembers the difficulties dealing with last year’s deadly heatwave. She says the heat in her unit was so bad she couldn’t sleep and tried all she could to cool off.

“Putting wet sheets or wet towels over so the fans could hit it and cool the air down was a help but after a while that didn’t help at all so by the time I was opening up my freezer to try to get cool, I  thought ‘I’m going to go to my daughter’s house.’”

But through Transition Projects Askari was able to qualify for an AC unit in her apartment. For her, it was a relief physically and financially.

“I really don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have air because I was about to try to save money to purchase one and I’m just really happy that somebody knew that AC for senior citizens is critical to have.”

PCEF’s Heat Response Program requires those eligible for the program have an annual income that is 60 percent or less of Portland’s median household income or be 60 years old or over, live alone, or have medical conditions that could trigger heat-related illnesses.

Logistics for the Heat Response Program are being managed by sustainable housing nonprofit Earth Advantage, which provides a weekly update of AC units installed.

The website for the city’s Heat Response Program says the program aims to distribute 15,000 air conditioning units over the next five years.

The Transition Projects coordinator who manages Argyle Gardens says she went through the Portland organization, Verde Northwest, which is one of the groups helping the city distribute ac units. For her residents, it has made all the difference.

“You lack the privacy when you’re pulling central air and trying to maintain during 116-degree days,” said coordinator Heidi Fredeen.  “So now that they have these units in their unit, they can have their autonomy and the air conditioning too.”

If you believe you may be eligible for a cooling unit, you can contact Verde Northwest at 503-290-8570 to join a waitlist, or call the African-American Alliance for home ownership at 503-595-3517 which is also providing AC units to eligible people.

If you live in a property managed by one of the following housing providers, contact your property manager to see if you may be eligible for a cooling unit.