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Commissioners approve plan to deliver about $24M annually to address chronic homelessness

COURTESY RENDERING: METRO - Good Shepherd, a 143-unit affordable housing development, is planned along Southeast 162nd Avenue in Happy Valley. The total development cost is $54 million, of which $18.3 million will come from Metro bond funds.Clackamas County has approved a Metro-wide supportive housing contract outlining the distribution of a projected $240 million toward reducing chronic homelessness in the county over the next decade.

County commissioners on Thursday enthusiastically voted through the "long-awaited" contract, which solidifies the 10-year plan for implementing anticipated revenues from a business and personal income tax measure passed by voters in 2020 to provide comprehensive supportive housing services to the region's growing population of unhoused and at-risk residents — a crisis exacerbated by an ongoing global pandemic, rising housing costs and rental assistance delays.

Known as the Supportive Housing Services (SHS) measure, the tax finances a wide range of community-specific services in the areas of emergency sheltering and outreach, housing placement, rental assistance, mental health and addiction recovery support, tenant rights advocacy and more.

The SHS program aims to assist 5,000 households out of long-term homelessness and support 10,000 households at risk for or experiencing short-term homelessness, among other goals detailed in a regional implementation plan which addresses the state's long history of racially discriminatory housing practices and a federal history of disinvesting in institutional mental health services.

"The program attempts to correct years of discriminatory practices and focuses on addressing housing instability for people experiencing homelessness across the region, with a call to share responsibility and strengthen coordination between the three counties," Clackamas County officials wrote in a press release Thursday.

Per county officials, Multnomah and Washington counties are expected to approve contracts with similar language before February, after which Clackamas would be expected to receive $24 million annually in SHS tax revenues which will be allocated based on specific local needs.

"Our planning process for our local implementation plan was vast and broad and included great community engagement that was unique to us," said Clackamas County Commissioner Sonya Fischer on Thursday. "Our plan is Clackamas County centric, and this IGA makes it absolutely clear that we are in the driver's seat on how services will be delivered."

Community leaders and housing advocates in the region have been critical of Clackamas County's decision to reduce its first-year supportive housing budget from the full $24 million advised by Metro to a $10 million budget, later increased to roughly $14 million, following what commissioners have maintained was a "delay" in tax revenues — although Metro officials said the board incorrectly assumed funds would be available in full nearly one year before taxes are being collected.

Commissioners have defended taking a different budgeting approach than Multnomah or Washington counties, reiterating that funds have not been received as they anticipated based upon the information presented to them, and they have continued supporting homeless services in the meantime by requesting a loan from Metro to secure bridge funding after receiving fewer federal COVID-19 relief dollars than the other two counties.

"Helping people find and stay in stable housing has long been a top priority for Clackamas County," said Commissioner Paul Savas, adding that the SHS program provides the framework to address the housing crisis head-on. "As the long-awaited funds begin to ramp up, we will be better prepared to advance our regionally shared goal of helping people out of homelessness."

Thus far, Clackamas County reports having awarded more than $2 million locally to partner organizations offering a range of supportive housing services, over $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to finance emergency sheltering, and collaborating with local landlords to provide previously unhoused residents with rent assistance.

Supportive housing staff for the county will provide commissioners and the public with quarterly progress reports based on metrics outlined in the local implementation plan, with the next update expected by the end of February.

"Homelessness is a region-wide problem that demands a region-wide solution," said Chair Tootie Smith in the press release. "This IGA allows for better coordination, transparency and accountability."

"Our Supportive Housing Services program is primarily aimed at helping the most vulnerable members of our community – those who have the highest barriers to access housing," Commissioner Martha Schrader said.

To learn more about supportive housing services in Clackamas County, or to sign up for email updates on implementation progress, click here.

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