Multnomah County residents have one more chance to weigh in on a budget that will put $255 million — a historically large investment — toward trying to turn around the region’s worsening homeless crisis.
It’s the most the county has ever allocated for homeless services in a one-year period. The unprecedented sum is due largely to tax money made available by the Metro Supportive Housing Services measure, which voters in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties passed handily in 2020. It comes mostly from a 1% tax on affluent earners, intended for services that help people experiencing homelessness or those at risk of losing their homes.
The pot of money has been under intense scrutiny lately due to an effort from a political group called People for Portland, which aimed to divert most of the funds toward emergency shelters. The group had argued local governments were not doing enough to address the humanitarian crisis on the streets. People for Portland had been pushing for all municipalities receiving the tax money to spend 75% of it on shelter until there were enough beds for the region’s entire homeless population.
A judge ruled last week that the measure was unconstitutional and couldn’t move forward to the November ballot.
With the People for Portland effort sputtering, Multnomah County is moving forward with plans to spend the money as it initially intended: on rent assistance, case management, short-term shelter and permanent supportive housing.
Over the upcoming fiscal year, county officials predict that the tax will provide them with $107 million to spend on homeless services, according to a budget presentation made to county commissioners last week by the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Services.
The county plans to spend a little less than one-third of that money — $32 million — on supportive housing, which combines affordable units with wrap-around services like case management or rent assistance to help people stay in their homes.
Related: Portland homeless advocates, providers want to house 3,000 people by year’s end
County officials said this money will fund the creation of up to 1,700 new supportive housing apartments. Roughly 370 of those units will be available in 2023 and roughly 220 will be built in 2024, according to Joint Office interim director Shannon Singleton.
Another $27 million — 25 percent of the total tax money available for this year — will go toward shelter, said Yesenia Delgado, who oversees the tax money for Multnomah County. It will go to fund over 2,000 shelter beds available year-round, which includes motel rooms, congregate shelters and village-style shelters.
In total, county officials say they plan to fund nearly 2,700 shelter beds over the upcoming fiscal year, which stretches from the end of this June to the start of July 2023. The most recent tally of the county’s homeless population, done on one night this January, found roughly 5,200 people experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County — up from 4,000 in 2019. Many experts say the 2022 figures are likely an undercount.
In total, the budget accounts for $3.3 billion in spending — the largest spending plan in Multnomah County history. The county said it’s the first time in six years that departments were not asked to make cuts, thanks, in part, to money flowing in from the federal American Rescue Plan and a better than expected revenue from the county’s Business Income Tax.
Multnomah County residents can weigh in on the budget at a hearing on June 1. The final budget is expected to be adopted two weeks later.