Leaders stride toward goal of 2,000 units for homeless
City and county leaders say they're a quarter closer to the finish line as they rush to complete their self-imposed goal of 2,000 units of supportive housing by 2028.
At least 517 new living spaces have been completed or are in the pipeline in Multnomah County. Each will offer addiction and mental health counseling in addition to a safe place to sleep.
But the subsidized housing won't come cheap — and it won't be enough.
A new report estimates the total project will cost between $592 and $640 million over the next 10 years, with operating costs of $43 to $47 million a year after that. Moreover, an updated analysis shows the county needs at least 2,455 units of supportive housing to aid everyone currently suffering from chronic homelessness.
"We stepped into uncharted territory and we bound ourselves together with one vision," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said during a joint work session at City Hall. "Our coordinated and data-driven approach has made great strides. And we have momentum. It's crucial that we keep it going."
The Portland Council put another brick in the wall when it announced plans to purchase the Westwind Apartments, located at 333 N.W. Sixth Avenue in Old Town, for a reported $3 million. The 70 single-room-occupancy units have traditionally served poor people. City Hall plans to eventually demolish the building in exchange for a new site with wraparound services.
Multnomah County has chipped in $4 million from the sale of Wapato Jail toward the project.
"I'm confident we can continue to address this humanitarian crisis by continuing to place people into housing," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "That's something we can all be collectively proud of."
"I can't think of a better project that reflects the workgroup's priorities and that leverages our scarce resources," added Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who represents East Multnomah County.
The city and county commissioners insist the 2,000-unit project will actually save money in the long run — compared with the seemingly endless cycle that shunts vulnerable people from street corner to shelter to other institutions.
A bed costs $888 a night at Oregon State Hospital, $500 at a local emergency room or $210 at the downtown jail. In contrast, supportive housing costs just $59 to $64 daily, according to the Joint Office of Homeless Services report released on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
The government expects to shell out $218,000 in one-time costs to construct each SRO and $338,000 per family apartment. Yearly rental assistance costs just $13,000 for individuals and almost $20,000 for families, though officials expect those rents to balloon over time.
There are currently 3,700 units of supportive housing in operation in Multnomah County. Some 6,300 people received rental assistance for the first time, and nearly 6,000 people were able to transition from homelessness to housing in the last fiscal year, double the rate in 2013-14.
Also doubled was the number of people who spent at least one night at a shelter, now pegged at 8,000.