Metro OKs county homeless plan; Portland begins collecting tax
Multnomah County has cleared a key hurdle between itself and at least a billion dollars in new tax revenue over the next decade.
The Metro Council approved the county's Supportive Housing Services local implementation plan by a vote of 6-1 during a virtual meeting Thursday, April 29, with Councilor Mary Nolan casting the lone no vote.
"The question my vote answers today is, 'Will this plan, if implemented as presented, achieve and deliver the results within the 10 years that the voters have generously given us to end homelessness in our region?'" said Nolan, who represents downtown and North Portland. "I come to the conclusion that it will not."
Approval of the voluminous 231-page plan comes a week after Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury released a proposed budget showing an expected transfusion of $52 million to the Joint Office of Homeless Services from the new tax, which charges a 1% income tax for high-earning households and businesses with more than $5 million in receipts.
The money will make up a third of the Joint Office's resources next fiscal year, and Kafoury plans to double the agency's staffing to 70 workers in anticipation of the new dollars. Once fully implemented, Multnomah County expects to rake in as much as $100 million a year.
While hardly an itemized summary of where that money will go, the implementation plan does include estimates of the various costs to provide rental assistance, emergency housing, transitional shelter and the wraparound case worker-assisted housing that officials say is the most effective form of ending chronic homelessness.
Goals listed in the plan include creating 2,235 supportive housing units, helping 2,500 households per year exit homelessness, reducing those who begin life on the streets by 1,000 households a year through successful intervention programs and eliminating disparities in access for people of color.
Short-term investments for the first one to three years of the new tax involve spending $8 million to $9 million on projects supported by the Portland Housing Bond, flowing $10 million to housing units planned via the Metro Housing Bond, as well as leveraging federal vouchers and other rental assistance programs.
But Eric Fruits, research director at the Cascade Policy Institute, excoriated the plan as "a dog's breakfast" that only accounts for 10% of the first-year funds, arguing much of the money will go to overhead and administrative costs labeled as "building system capacity" in the plan.
"The plan must have some way to measure success or failure and, no, money out the door is not a measure of success," he said. "Metro's enormous emphasis on serving communities of color effectively tells the majority of the region's homeless, 'You're on your own.'"
In response, Patricia Rojas, who was named Metro's regional housing director earlier in April, noted that the plan stipulates that 75% of the revenue must be spent on extremely poor individuals making zero to 30% of the area median income.
"If we focus on racial equity, it does not mean that we are not serving everyone," Rojas said. "This is us serving better, and recognizing the harmful practices that led to these disparities in the first place."
Washington County's local implementation plan was approved by county Chair Kathryn Harrington April 16 and heads to the Metro Council for the final stamp in May. Clackamas County's plan was approved by commissioners April 13 but must be OK'd by Metro's oversight committee before heading to the full regional government council.
"There's a lot of information in this initial plan, but we will need more information going forward," said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson before voting yes on the Multnomah document.
Tax collection begins
The Revenue Division of the city of Portland began administering Metro's Supportive Housing Program tax, as well as an unrelated Multnomah County preschool tax, on April 28, according to a news release.
The taxes took effect Jan. 1 of this year; withholding, quarterly estimated payments, and registration began March 29 but annual filing will not begin until the start of 2022.
"We're paying the city no more than $27.3 million in year one to launch the program," said Metro spokesman Nick Christensen. "That does include $5.5 million in contingency. Ongoing expenses will be about $11 million, with $1 million of that in contingency."
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