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Small Business Legal Clinic

Family Essentials, LLC - Client Profile

May 16, 2019

Family Essentials, LLC, owned by Louise Williams, helps low-income families by offering transitional housing to clients who are referred by a social service agency. The business offers a hands-on program and Louise operates like a social worker/landlord hybrid. While tenants are enrolled in the program, they have stability, a place to call home, a chance to build rental history, and an opportunity to receive instruction focused on learning how to be a good tenant. Families are usually in the space for 3-8 months and pay rent at about 60-80% market rate. The Small Business Legal Clinic has enjoyed working on both simple and complex legal issues for Family Essentials, LLC.Louise Williams in the site for future expansion of Family Essentials, LLCLouise Williams in the site for future expansion of Family Essentials, LLC

In January of 2018, the business purchased property in East Portland to begin development of a new transitional housing space. Unfortunately, just two months later, the zoning on the property changed from an R2 to an R5. This meant they could no longer upgrade the property to house more units, making it not functional for its intended purpose. Although the rezoning had already been finalized before Louise purchased the property, the seller did not disclose the change. At this point, Louise was facing a complex land-use issue that dealt with zoning restrictions within the City of Portland. Louise previously worked with the SBLC on contracts and drafting a tenant lease, so she thought to contact the SBLC. Although this legal problem fell outside of the usual clinic spectrum, the SBLC made an effort to find an attorney to provide consultation support.

Garrett Stephenson, a land use attorney at Schwabe, Williamson, and Wyatt volunteered to consult and explore possible options. After they met, it quickly became apparent the legal route was extremely difficult, and probably too costly.  Louise only had until May 2018 to submit the expansion plans to the city, and while she might have been able to file a Measure 49 claim to fight the rezoning, that takes significant time and money. They decided to pursue a political solution instead. Thankfully, Garrett’s familiarity with local government paid off. Garrett contacted the chief of staffs for commissioners he felt might be sympathetic. He had to remain persistent to keep it on their radar, and he found that giving city employees an opportunity to be helpful with a business that is addressing a very compelling and timely challenge of housing eventually worked. Garrett helped Louise secure an opportunity to give a brief presentation to the city council. Housing is a priority for the city, and once Louise explained who Family Essentials is and their current situation, they were able to find a creative solution. Another property already had completed the steps to allow manufactured dwelling permit on a similarly zoned plot of land. They were able to include Louise’s re-zoning change onto that other proposal, giving it formal backing.

In the end, Louise was able to get her proposal approved and obtain permitting for additional units on her property. Both Garrett and Louise are quick to give credit to one another, but it is evident that their collective partnership helped bring about a big win, and the SBLC is grateful to have played legal match-maker in this small business success story.