Council: More money needed for homeless, affordable housing
Despite spending nearly $400 million more on homeless service and affordable housing since 2015, new revenue sources are needed to end the related crises, the City Council agreed on Thursday.
The council discussed the need for more money when it voted to extend the existing Housing State of Emergency for two years.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said city and Multnomah County officials are currently having numerous conversations about increasing funding for homeless services and additional affordable housing. He said the searches for new revenue should be coordinated during the upcoming sessions for writing the next budgets for the city and county.
"Multiple conversations are taking place. We should put them all together," Wheeler said.
The funding discussion was spurred by a request by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly that the council direct city budget and housing officials to identify an additional $50 million a year in ongoing funding for more services. She suggested a tax of vacant housing units, saying there are currently 16,000 empty apartments in Portland.
The council first declared a housing emergency for one year in October 2015 to waive zoning regulations to speed up the siting of new homeless shelters and affordable housing projects, among other things. The council extended the emergency for another year in 2016, and extended it for 18 months in2017. The emergency is now extended until April 2021 — five and one-half years after it was first declared.
During the discussion, council members said the homeless and affordable housing crises are aggravated by a lack of housing for lower-income households in the region. According to Portland House Bureau Director Shannon Callahan, when the emergency was first declared, Portland had been experiencing some of the highest rent increases in the country but still have one of the lowest vacancy rates.
According to Callahan, since 2015, the council has approved an additional $103 million for homeless services and $288 million for affordable housing projects. Much of the money has gone to the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services, which was created to better coordinate programs designed to prevent homelessness, shelter homeless people, and move them into permanent housing.
Despite thousands of new apartments of all kinds being built since 2015, rents are still too high for many households, the council agreed.
"People are working two jobs and still can't afford to live in the city where they were born and raised," said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who lamented seeing a $1,200-a-month studio apartment promoted as "affordable."
You can read the housing emergency declaration here.