Mayors back state aid for housing, mental health services
Metro area mayors have endorsed more state aid for housing and support services, such as mental health and drug treatment, that keep people from being homeless.
A dozen of the 25 members of the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium outlined their six priorities for the 2019 Oregon Legislature at a press conference Tuesday in Salem.
"Housing that is affordable, with support services attached, works to stabilize some of the most vulnerable people in our communities," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
But for the city and Multnomah County to reach a joint goal of 2,000 new units for some of the poorest residents within 10 years, he added, "We need the state's help to be successful and we are eager to work with our colleagues at the state level."
Portland voters approved a $258 million bond for housing in 2016, and Portland will get a sizable share — based on its taxable property values — of a $652.8 million bond for housing that Metro regional voters in three counties approved on Nov. 6.
"We have the funds, through the city and regional bonds, for the bricks and mortar," Wheeler said. "The question is really about the supportive-side services that are not funded through the bonds."
Gov. Kate Brown's two-year budget proposes $54.5 million for 500 more units statewide of "permanent supportive housing," which combines housing with mental health, alcohol and drug treatment and other services. The money is part of Brown's overall housing request for $406.1 million more for households at 30 percent or less of the area median income.
Wheeler said such housing and services are "one of the most urgent priorities of this legislative session."
Mental health boost
The 2015 Legislature boosted spending on crisis intervention services, emergency access to care, rental assistance for mental health clients and specialized training for police when officers confront people with mental health crises.
"We sure cannot afford to go backwards," Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle said.
"An underfunded state system for mental health services directly affects every city through increased demand for emergency and police services. Not only does sheer call volume increase when services are not there or not funded properly, it affects the quality of life for people needing specific help for mental health with preventable issues."
"Even when people are able to seek mental health services, they are often unable to receive treatment in a timely manner due to a shortage of mental health care workers in this state."
The mayors did not comment specifically on Senate Bill 608, which proposes to limit annual rent increases to 7 percent plus the Consumer Price Index and to ban no-cause evictions. The bill does not propose to lift a 1985 state ban on cities and counties regulating rent, unlike a 2017 bill that passed the House but died in the Senate.
Wheeler said only that the Legislature should "allow individual cities to address their housing challenges in a way that is most effective for the needs of their communities."
However, he said, homelessness is not confined to Portland.
Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis leads the consortium, which he said works with the League of Oregon Cities and the Oregon Mayors Association on shared priorities.
"But the Portland region is unique with the center of (Oregon's) population — and different issues come our way that may not come to other parts of this state," Bemis said. "So we wanted to carve out a space that is unique to the region's mayors to get together and make changes on some of these significant issues."
Other priorities advocated by the mayors:
• Climate change: They endorsed legislation that proposes to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and use the proceeds from emissions fees for development of renewable sources and energy-efficiency projects, electrified transportation and upgrades to streets, storm drains, and water and sewer systems.
• Auto theft: They endorsed House Bill 2328, which would reverse the effects of recent Oregon Court of Appeals decisions that make it more difficult to convict defendants caught behind the wheels of stolen cars — short of their confessing to the thefts.
According to a 2018 report by A Secure Life, based on FBI data for 236 cities, Portland ranked fifth in auto thefts at 5.57 per 1,000 population and Gresham eighth at 5.11 per 1,000.
• Right of way regulation: They said cities should retain their authority to regulate how utilities and others use city streets — particularly with the development of a new generation of cellular mobile communications known as 5G networks — and to receive compensation from them.
• Professional services: They want lawmakers to refine a 2011 law that sets procedures for local governments to obtain services without bidding from architects, engineers, land surveyors, photo mappers and transportation planners. The procedures are known as "qualification-based selection," an alternative to the bidding process, but the mayors seek to add pricing information as part of the consideration for such contracts.