Commissioners say funding advance beyond $5M is unlikely until the county reaches agreement

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Homeless people line up recently for services outside of the Father's Heart Street Ministry in Oregon City.Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas on Tuesday, Sept. 14, announced Metro housing officials are not offering the county a $24 million funding advance for Supportive Housing Services, despite conflicting reports circulating throughout the county.

"We have confirmed, despite information otherwise, that Metro is actually not offering Clackamas County a $24 million loan," Savas said during a policy meeting.

Metro's advance would have been in place of a $24 million funding shortfall that the county faced following a delay in anticipated tax receipts from Measure 26-210, a business and personal income tax designed to raise money for SHS. The delay put several Clackamas County housing services at risk of being defunded or discontinued, exacerbating housing conditions that were already dire for many in the county without access to stable housing and other critical resources.

The first mention of the advance came during an Aug. 3 policy meeting when Housing Director Jill Smith said that Metro housing officials had offered "an advance of the full amount of funding necessary" to move forward with a $24 million implementation plan for local housing services. Reached for comment on Wednesday, Sept. 15, Smith did not immediately respond.

Savas on Sept. 14 recounted an Aug. 26 meeting between county officials, housing coalition HereTogether and Metro CFO Brian Kennedy in which Kennedy dispelled the report and revealed that revenue disbursements have been below expectations due to a tax-revenue modeling system from ECONorthwest that produced inaccurate forecasts.

Kennedy did not immediately respond when reached for comment on Sept. 15.

According to Savas, county officials were told during the meeting that a funding advance beyond the $5 million Metro had already offered is unlikely unless the county completes SHS contractual and agreements with Metro and addresses remaining questions posed by Metro's Regional Oversight Committee.

Savas said Metro and the county have been engaged in a series of meetings spanning Tuesday and Wednesday to work out their differences with contractual terms. He hopes to report a more accurate funding forecast within the next "two or three weeks," but is concerned that the current $5 million advance will by used up by 2022.

"I suspect that the $5 million advance and what we've contributed thus far in resources will not make it through the end of the year," Savas said.

Commissioner Martha Schrader, who presented the update to the board alongside Savas, directly addressed concerns circulating among housing advocates who believed the county had a $24 million offer on the table and was intentionally delaying disbursement of funds.

"We are fully committed to implementing the (plan)," Schrader said, "I just want to make that clear to all the advocates, because I'm sure we're going to hear from them pretty directly."

Savas told Pamplin Media Group that he and other county staff have been receiving calls nonstop from community advocates, some accusing the commission of deliberately "withholding" funds from Clackamas County service providers.

"Someone thought that we were actually sitting on the $24 million disbursement from Metro and we weren't going to send it. I asked, 'Who told you that?'" Savas said, adding that instead of arguing over who is to blame for the funding shortfall, he believes all parties involved should work in partnership to ensure those in need of resources have access to SHS.

"I think everyone had their hopes up, and when the money didn't come, I think people started pointing fingers at each other," Savas said. "We certainly need the providers, nonprofits and everyone else to be that service mechanism to help us out," Savas said.

"I keep asking them to please let us do our job in a way that makes sure that we are fiscally working towards sustainability with the services, because if we put ourselves in a position of, in my mind, borrowing before we have certainty in the revenue stream, that's just something I can't get to," Schrader said about concerned advocates on Sept. 14.

Schrader underscored that the board is well aware of the urgency of the Clackamas County housing crisis and is taking steps to mitigate the issue.

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