A joint letter endorsed by nearly 160 elected officials, businesses and community leaders from across Clackamas County urged the Board of County Commissioners to accelerate its distribution of resources to homeless services amid a housing crisis exacerbated by a global pandemic, rising housing costs and rental assistance delays.
In the letter, organized by housing coalition HereTogether and sent to commissioners on Thursday, Oct. 28, leaders and advocates collectively called upon the board to act on four key directives to expedite the impact of a Metro-wide Supportive Housing Services measure passed by voters in May 2020.
Following approval of the measure, Clackamas County this April completed a Local Implementation Plan based on Metro's early projection of roughly $24 million in first-year revenue from the business and personal income tax, which raises money for supportive housing services in the metro area.
On May 18, commissioners were notified of a projected amount for the first of multiple disbursements of revenues from the measure, which Commissioner Paul Savas later said was a decrease from $24 million to $150,000.
"We were under the impression that Clackamas County was going to receive at least $24 million on July 1," Savas said during a June 29 policy session, adding that the board had been notified the "monies may come in gradually" but that the news still caught the board by surprise.
After receiving the news, referred to as a "delay" on a June 29 policy worksheet, commissioners reduced the budget to $10 million, using county general dollars as bridge funding to keep at-risk services afloat as well as a $3 million advance from Metro on July 20 to put towards an essential services budget with the option to request an additional $2 million if needed.
According to Nick Christensen, communications advisor for the Metro Council, there was never a delay in the first place — commissioners were incorrectly under the impression that the full $24 million would be disbursed on July 1.
"Metro never anticipated distributing $24 million on July 1. We expected to distribute the majority of the funding after people file their taxes on April 15, 2022," Christensen said.
Christensen also clarified that the first disbursement of tax revenues to Clackamas County was $256,000 sent on July 13. Through September, he added, Metro has distributed over $700,000 in SHS funding to the county.
According to HereTogether and Metro officials, on Aug. 26 commissioners and county staff met with HereTogether and Metro CFO Brian Kennedy to sort out previous miscommunications about revenue disbursements, but contract negotiations remain incomplete — as unhoused Clackamas County residents continue to be underserved in the meantime.
Despite a short-term contract between Metro and the county outlining tax revenues as well as Metro's reported efforts to reassure commissioners about the certainty of future dollars, including a projection of $32 million coming down the pipeline after April 2022, the board has remained hesitant to commit county dollars to supportive housing before seeing the money come in.
According to a statement released by HereTogether alongside the joint letter, county leaders and advocates perceive the board's response thus far as having "grossly underestimated" the urgency with which the current housing crisis demands these resources be put towards supporting unhoused community members in Clackamas County.
County commissioners' continued approval of contracts that allocate funds to homeless service providers is immediately requested by the letter to help people transition from sheltering in temporary motels to more stable housing. The board began these efforts on Oct. 18, announcing the approval of $1.7 million to be allocated among three nonprofits.
Signers of the letter also encouraged commissioners to ensure continued funding for service providers already in contractual agreements with the county, as multiple contracts are slated to expire Dec. 31 along with the federal eviction moratorium.
Leaders and advocates then requested commissioners take further steps following these actions, beginning with increasing the current first-year SHS budget of $10 million to align with the approved $24.5 million implementation plan. Increased budget transparency between commissioners and the county at large was also requested of the board in the letter.
"Now more than ever Clackamas County individuals and families experiencing or at risk of houselessness need the Clackamas County Commission collaborating transparently with cities and providers to meet the urgent needs of our most vulnerable residents," said Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck, one of the 22 elected county officials who have signed the letter.
During a policy meeting on Tuesday, commissioners discussed increasing the budget for homeless services by leveraging approximately $2 million in revenues from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund emergency shelter programming.
Among the 28 nonprofit leaders endorsing the letter is Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women's Services, an agency supporting those impacted by domestic and sexual violence, which has been a longtime advocate for the strategy of incorporating ARPA funds into the budget.
"Using ARPA funds to advance the Local Implementation Plan is something we've been advocating for for months," Erlbaum said. "We encourage the commissioners to act quickly to bring the ARPA funds to bear and continue to act with urgency to fund the full $24 million Local Implementation Plan to fulfill the promises they made to the community."
County commissioners on Tuesday approved unanimously to apply for the remaining $2 million from Metro offered in advance, bumping the current budget estimate from $10 million up to $12 million, with a potential bump up to $14 million if ARPA money is able to be used.
Savas said during the meeting that ramping up supportive-housing funds beyond the potential increase to $14 million hinges upon the completion of a long-term contract between the tri-counties and Metro.
"The long-awaited completion of the (contract) between Metro and the three counties originally anticipated to be completed and signed in June of this year, is still in negotiations. This has delayed our ability to implement the (implementation plan) and remains an obstacle and requesting another advance from Metro," Savas said.
This story was updated on Nov. 2 from its original version online to include comments from Metro.
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