Auditors determine Portland’s Civic Life bureau mismanaged historic Kenton Firehouse

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A city audit revealed Portland’s Office of Community and Civic Life has mismanaged the historic Kenton Firehouse since before the previous organization in charge of maintenance halted operations.

The review published by the Auditor’s Office on Wednesday explained Civic Life owns the firehouse, but doesn’t hold the authority to collect rental fees. That responsibility belonged to North Portland Community Works, until the nonprofit shut down in 2022.

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Since then, investigators reported Civic Life has waitlisted requests from community members hoping to rent the property. They added that the bureau has allowed a public official to use the space for free, and its nonprofit partner previously allowed officials to rent the space for $200 each month.

According to the audit, real estate group Newmark estimates a similarly-sized commercial office space in the city would cost $1,080 monthly.

The report additionally shows Civic Life never had a formal agreement with North Portland Community Works.

“We found that management of the Firehouse was inefficient because there were unclear responsibilities and requirements for the nonprofit partner and that asset management and revenue policies were bypassed,” auditors said. “Bypassing these City controls also led to waste since the asset management and revenue policies are meant to ensure sufficient support of services for the property.”

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Because there was no formal agreement in place, the city is unaware of whether there was additional rental revenue for the property after North Portland Community Works shut down. As a result, officials have allocated $30,000 toward maintenance for the past two fiscal years.

In addition, the review found Civic Life’s failure to document rental transactions “has the potential to create an appearance of fraud.”

Auditors have advised the bureau to seek help from Portland City Council, transfer the property to another local office or sell it to another owner. They also recommended that Civic Life review its other partnerships, and whether they are lacking formal agreement as well.

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“The Office of Community and Civic Life responded to the investigation with a statement agreeing with our recommendations and providing additional context,” the audit said. “Civic Life says that there is work underway to pursue the options outlined in our first recommendation.”

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