Homeless campers on a sidewalk in Old Town Portland.
Homeless campers on a sidewalk in Old Town Portland. Dirk Vanderhart

The Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) has released its recommendations on how Multnomah County should spend an expected $55 million in new tax revenue reserved for homeless services.

This funding comes from a new 1 percent income tax on high-income households in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, which was approved by voters in May 2020. The revenue, which is dispersed by Metro among the three counties, is specifically meant to bankroll "supportive housing"—or affordable rental housing that is accompanied with programs tailored to help a new tenant remain housed after moving in. Those supports can include job readiness training, addiction treatment, or personal finance education.

In Multnomah County, the funds go directly into the JOHS' annual budget, but must get the approval of Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury before being used. JOHS sent Kafoury a formal budget proposal Friday, in which it broke down how the county's first allotment of this new revenue stream should be divided.

The department's priorities aren't a big surprise: The proposal recommends putting $7.2 million toward creating permanent supportive housing and $5.8 million toward programs that help keep people who may be at risk of homelessness housed. Specifically, JOHS suggests putting $2.8 million aside for emergency rent assistance for people who are at risk of eviction due to COVID-19, $2.4 towards services to help connect houseless with permanent housing, $3 million to expand alternative shelter programs (such as tiny house villages), and other supportive programs.

JOHS also suggests using $3.7 million to maintain emergency shelters that have popped up during COVID-19, $3.5 million towards developing a new adult shelter in North Portland, $3 million to improve mental health programs for the houseless population, and $6.7 million to strengthen culturally-specific homeless service providers. The department even suggests putting $3 million toward programs to hire people who've lost work due to COVID-19 cuts. In nearly all budget suggestions, JOHS recommends prioritizing communities of color.

According to JOHS, these new resources will successfully create and maintain permanent housing for 1,400 households within the first year. Of that total, an estimated 350 will be new supportive housing units. Multnomah County has a goal of creating 2,235 new supportive housing units by 2028.

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JOHS also suggests putting a significant chunk of the revenue towards data collection and general management of the new programs created under the new fund—laying the groundwork for a permanent revenue source. The county expects this inaugural year's tax revenue to be doubled to $100 million by year two, because Metro only began collecting the new funds on January 2021, which is halfway through the fiscal year. Washington and Clackamas counties are expected to collect a combined $150 million annually from the tax.

Metro is responsible for collecting the new homeless service tax, approving how each county plans to use it, and overseeing the rollout and efficacy of these plans. Unlike JOHS' specific annual budget proposal, these county plans are far more big-picture, and are meant to focus more on how the county will determine where to spend dollars than which specific programs they'll fund. At the moment, Multnomah County is the only county to get its plan green-lit by a Metro subcommittee which reviews these proposals. That committee has recommended the Metro Council approve Multnomah County's plan.

The JOHS budget proposal will need approval by Kafoury to move forward. Kafoury will release her proposed budget for the county—which will include the JOHS budget—on April 22. Follow the county's budget process here.