In a notable display of solidarity, the county chairs for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties lined up in support of a measure for homeless services that Metro, the regional government, is expected to place on the May 2020 ballot.
The measure, as it’s currently envisioned, would place a 1-to-2% tax on high-income earners — individuals earning above $125,000 or couples making more than $250,000. That money would be funneled primarily toward services that keep people out of homelessness, such as mental health support, addiction services and rental assistance.
HereTogther Oregon, a coalition pushing for a regional response to the homelessness crisis, crafted the measure and presented it to Metro this month. The Metro Council quickly organized a vote — expected to take place later this month — and, before that, a public hearing, which took place Thursday evening.
The three-county chairs were the first to testify – all in support, a rare occurrence for a regional funding measure.
Kathryn Harrington, Washington County’s chair, framed the measure as a necessary follow-up to the regional housing bond that Metro passed in 2018.
Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard followed, saying he believed the speed with which they were moving toward putting the measure on the ballot was fitting, considering how pressing of an issue homelessness had become in the region.
“This is pretty fast-moving but this is an emergency ... We need some assistance. We can’t wait for the federal government,” said Bernard. “We need to take this on ourselves.”
In her plea to the council to move forward, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury noted how rare it was to have all three county commissioners walking in lockstep on a single solution.
“We all know focusing on one issue has the habit of dividing people,” said Kafoury. “But not this one. We have an entire region standing in full support of a coordinated response of ending homelessness.”
Katrina Holland, a board member of HereTogether, said she believed the county chairs were matching the sentiment of county residents.
“The public is sort of exhibiting the same thing,” she said. “We did some polling that looked at what are the top priorities for folks in the region, in each of the counties, and homelessness was by far the top concern for folks that took that survey in a way that some pollsters had never seen before, so I think what we're seeing here is a long-overdue community-wide commitment to solving an issue at scale,” she said.
The council is expected to vote later this month on whether to send the measure to the May ballot.