A week after Hales' abrupt announcement he'll ask his colleagues to formally declare a state of emergency, we've got a pledge of millions to fight the scourge. The mayor, Chair Deborah Kafoury, commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish, and a bunch of other Portland housing honchos announced this morning $30 million will be spent on new shelter space for hundreds of homeless and affordable housing for more than 1,000 people. That amounts to $10 million from the county and $20 million from the city.
It's a big mound of cash, and it's impressive so much has been agreed upon so soon, considering the mayor only cursorily informed his colleagues (and the county) he'd be making the emergency announcement last week ("It raised a lot of hope and it raised some eyebrows," was how Fish put it this morning). But it looks like the money's going to come on a timeline few would associate with an "emergency."
Though Hales talked this morning about problems we can solve "tonight" and "this week" and "this month," the vast majority of the $30 million likely won't come into play until next year's budget kicks in. The city's fiscal year begins July 1.
"We wanna set a goal of cutting homelessness by half" Hales said. "That's a goal I think this coalition and this partnership can reach together."
You might imagine the details around the money are sketchy at this point. You'd be right.
What we know: The $30 million will go to A Home for Everyone (HFE), a coalition formed last year to sketch plans for solving homelessness in the city. Earlier this year, the group unveiled a series of actions plans it says could slash homelessness in half. It's also been working to get all the county's nearly 700 homeless veterans off the street, something officials say will be complete by Christmas.
Even with those plans and success, HFE says Oregon's homeless problem is growing at an alarming rate as the housing market heats up. Until recently, the group "didn't know... the depth of the crisis in our housing market and that it would disrupt so many people's lives so quickly," said Marc Jolin, the coalition's director. Jolin said this morning that he estimates "thousands of new people" are becoming homeless in the Portland area this year—even as local shelters are taking in more people than ever, and upwards of 3,500 homeless people found housing last year.
"Even being able to house more people than we have ever housed in this community, we know from the data... that if we don't take dramatic action we will not be able to reduce the number of people suffering," Jolin said.
Here's what he says HFE can do with the $30 million, along with Hales' proposal that the city waive zoning rules with a formal state of emergency:
•650 additional units of shelter space.
•Help at least 1,000 people avoid losing their housing
•Create a "tenant protection team to make sure tenants rights are being enforced."
•More permanent housing—enough for "1,300 women, children, and people with disabilities."
Jolin also touted new rental protections proposed by Commissioner Dan Saltzman that would extend the notice renters get when they're being evicted for no cause, or their rents rise dramatically. Those proposals have met criticism from landlords and tenant advocates.
"We have to be able to implement our strategies... right now," Jolin said. "That is what the state of emergency and this $30 million will allow us to do."
In announcing last week that he wants to suspend the city's zoning rules—something that would have to be done in continuous two-week spurts under city law—Hales said he wanted to build a shelter for homeless women before the end of the year. The Mercury reported last week the mayor is looking closely at an old Army reserve center off Southwest Barbur.
The mayor said today he'll look to get a shelter up and running "preferably before winter hits," but he couldn't offer any solid assurances sufficient city money would be allocated this year to do that. Hales pointed to the upcoming Budget Monitoring Process or "bump," in which the city adjusts its budget.
Update, 11:07 am: There's a pretty big issue with the bump, it turns out: There's barely any money to play with. City Budget Director Andrew Scott sent an email to city council earlier this week letting them know the city had around $3 million less at the end of last fiscal year than anticipated. That's not too worrisome, Scott says, but it means the only money available to play with for the bump is $2.2 million in contingency money. That money can be used for just about anything, but it might be largely spoken for.
The city's already pledged to fold 86 low-paid parks workers under union protections, after losing a years-long labor dispute earlier this year. The costs of folding those employees in would take up the vast majority of contingency money, according to Scott—between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Hales would have known all this during today's press conference.
Hales also said he'd look to put more urban renewal money—controlled by the Portland Development Commission—toward housing, saying "that money is fungible." The city's Housing Advisory Commission has recommended that at minimum half of Portland's renewal funds go toward affordable housing. Hales stopped short of supporting that proposal when we asked him about it last week.
The bottom line: There's no sign of how much of the $30 million will be spent this year (or even this fiscal year). There's also no telling how much of the $30 million might become "ongoing" funding that replenishes year to year. Kafoury said she'd look to make some of the county's funding permanent, and Hales said "of course we can commit" to making some money permanent. Neither offered specifics.
One thing that does seem certain: That the city will begin putting all the money it makes from taxing Airbnb hosts toward housing—a move Fish, Saltzman and Hales indicated support for. City revenue officials are frequently cagey about how revenue the city reaps from Airbnb, but Saltzman said this morning it's roughly $1 million a year. Saltzman also announced the Portland Housing Bureau will solicit proposals for 600 units of affordable housing later this year, an investment that will involve $60 million of public funds, a quarter of it from the city and county.
None of the uncertainty around this funding seems particularly worrisome to the people who've been scraping for money to fight homelessness. There's a sense that Hales' surprise announcement last week—which some have described as a sloppy gaffe—might have finally forced officials to prioritize the city's housing crisis.
As Jolin told collected media: "This is an incredibly exciting day."