Officials from the city of Portland and Multnomah County say they’ll spend an additional $30 million dollars on homeless shelters and housing aid.
At a morning press conference, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and three other city and county commissioners said their proposal will help put homeless people into shelters and affordable housing.
Housing officials say they hope to increase the number of shelters in Portland, build new affordable housing units, and fund a legal aid program for tenants.
Hales and Kafoury asserted that skyrocketing rents and a low vacancy rate for apartments in Portland have pushed more people into homelessness.
“The housing crisis in our community is making our job, serving as the community’s safety net, much harder,” Kafoury said. “Over the last year, demand for rental housing has skyrocketed in the Portland region. Rents have jumped 16 percent countywide.”
Kafoury says Multnomah county will look for an additional 10 million dollars to spend on housing next year, and that some of that funding will likely be ongoing funding.
“A stable home allows us to more effectively tackle the other problems, like a drug addiction, mental health issues, or finding a job,” she said.
Mayor Hales said the city plans to contribute $20 million. Asked where that money will come from, the mayor cited urban renewal dollars, a proposed tax on demolitions, and revenue from the tax collected on short-term rentals, like Airbnb.
Hales said housing will be his top priority for the city’s general fund next year.
Last week, Hales declared a homelessness and housing emergency in the Portland area.
“I don’t think we can solve all of Portland’s homelessness or housing problems overnight,” he said. “For too long, I think we’ve stayed rooted in a realization that these problems can’t be solved overnight. Some of them can’t be. But I also want us to recognize that there are some things we can move quickly on,” he said.
Hales re-affirmed his commitment to try to open at least one new shelter by the end of the year, and said the First Unitarian Church had approached him with a proposal.
The City Council will take up the mayor’s homelessness and housing emergency ordinance next week.
The most recent point-in-time homeless count in the Portland Metro area took place in January. It found 3,801 unsheltered people in Multnomah county, little change from a count in 2013. Local housing advocates say that point-in-time data does not reflect changes they have observed.
“The lack of affordable vacancies has made finding housing an almost insurmountable challenge for a growing number of families,” said Mark Jolin, Chair of the A Home For Everyone coalition.
“We saw a 42 percent increase in the number of people who used our emergency shelters just this last year.”