Council sets goal of creating more supportive housing
The City Council took another step to focus Portland's affordable housing programs more on the homeless Wednesday when it unanimously set a goal of creating 2,000 supportive housing units by 2028.
Such units are affordable housing reserved for people with addiction, mental health and other issues who need services to keep them housed. The goal was set out in a resolution sponsored by Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly.
"Achieving this goal will provide greater stability and a higher quality of life for thousands of people," sais Eudaly.
An identical resolution will be considered by the Multnomah County Commission on Thursday, Oct. 19. The city and county help fund the existing supportive units in the county, along with Home Forward, the former Housing Authority of Portland.
According to the resolution, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness reports that "study after study has shown that supportive housing not only resolves homelessness and increases housing stability, but also improves health and lowers public costs by reducing the use of publicly funded crisis services."
Although there are already around 3,300 such units in the county, the resolution says the Corporation for Supportive Housing, a national leader in the field of housing and homelessness, has identified a need for 2,800 more.
The big unanswered question is how to fund the services. The resolution requires the city, county, Home Forward and the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) to submit a plan for meeting the goal and funding the additional level of services within nine months. It may recommend new revenue sources.
The Metro Council on Oct. 26 will consider a $150,000 grant request from the joint office to fund a one-year study of the need for more supportive housing in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. If approved, the grant will be matched by $29,440 from the joint office to determine where additional units can be built and how to pay for them and the services their residents require.
All of the council members stressed that even creating the 2,000 additional units is not enough to solve the homeless crisis. That requires multiple approaches, they said, including creating more affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness that do not need support services.
Along those lines, last Wednesday the council approved a framework for spending the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by city voters last November. The spending guidelines, drafted by an 18-member advisory commission, say the homeless and those at risk of homelessness should be prioritized for the 1,300 units the money is expected to preserve or create.
"Portland's housing bond is a historic opportunity to stabilize families and mitigate displacement," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "This is the community's bond, so we took the time necessary for a deliberate and thoughtful community process to get it right. The result is better because of it."
It is the first time the council has officially voted to create so much affordable housing for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, although many homeless people have occupied such units in projects built with city funds in the past. Also prioritized for housing are children, communities of color, and those who have experienced discrimination.
An Affordable Housing Bond Oversight Committee appointed by the council will consider specific proposals to preserve or build the unit, assuring the projects comply with the framework plan.
None of the projects will be built in urban renewal areas, which have their own funding source. Forty-five percent of all "tax-increment" financing dollars, generated by rising property taxes in urban renewal areas, now are set aside for affordable housing in them.
The moves follow the most recent Point in Time homeless count conducted earlier this year that showed an increasing percent of those without permanent housing have addiction, mental health and other issues that make it difficult for them to transition of the streets.
The spending plan approved last Wednesday by the council also sets a target for 300 units of supportive housing, provided that external funding for services is secured.
The council is also acting amid signs of growing pubic dissatisfaction of its handling of the homeless crisis. Although the supportive housing resolution and bond measure were sent in motion last year, KGW-TV recently released a poll it commissioned that shows most Portland residents are dissatisfied with the city response to the homeless crisis.
According to the poll, 34 percent of Portlanders have considered moving out of the city because of the problem. Fifty-seven percent are dissatisfied with how Wheeler is addressing homelessness. Nearly the same percentage said they are dissatisfied with the Portland Police Bureau's response to homelessness, and 52 percent are dissatisfied with the city business community's response. Fifty-one percent are dissatisfied with how local news organizations cover the issues, and 40 percent are dissatisfied with local service providers. The poll also found 46 percent are dissatisfied with how Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury is addressing homelessness.
Wheeler acknowledged the unhappiness Wednesday, saying there is "a lot of anger and frustration" over the number of people visibly living on the streets.
The poll was conducted by Portland-based DHM Research as part of a special report on Oct. 9 titled "Tent City USA."