At a press conference Wednesday, officials with Portland and Multnomah County said they need more private landlords to set aside units for veterans, to fulfill Mayor Charlie Hales’ pledge to end veteran homelessness by 2016.
“We have rent assistance and other tools to have vets get back into housing,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “What we don’t have is apartments.”
Kafoury spoke at an event kicking off the final 100 days of the city’s initiative to end veteran homelessness.
The initiative, called “A Home For Every Veteran,” has housed 430 veterans so far this year. A Home For Every Veteran aims to get at least 260 more veterans into housing by the end of the year.
An estimated 690 veterans will experience homelessness over the course of 2015, according to the city’s calculations.
The city has combined federal dollars with local contributions— including a donation of 200 brand new beds – to try to reach that goal.
But Kafoury said reaching the target will be difficult because market forces have created a “state of emergency” for renters in Multnomah County.
“Over the last year, demand for rental housing has skyrocketed. Only 2.4 percent of units are vacant. Rents have jumped 16 percent countywide,” she said.
Kafoury and Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman singled out and thanked two private companies that have embraced the city’s goal and reserved units for veterans: Income Property Management and Princeton Property Management.
Princeton, one of the largest local property management firms based in Oregon, has rented units to homeless veterans in 15 of its complexes.
“This is just the heart of our president. She is a fair minded person,” said Andy Dean, an Assistant Portfolio manager for the company.
Dean said when a unit becomes available, Princeton notifies the veterans participating in “A Home For Every Veteran” and gives them a chance to apply first.
According to Dean, given the strong demand, few people are able to get into a unit immediately.
“It’s really difficult. The moment we get a notice, a lot of our properties have waiting lists,” he said. “That unit is rented a lot of times before the person moves out. It’s that fast.”
Dean said he was particularly pleased his company had chosen to participate in the initiative because is a Navy veteran himself.
“I know firsthand what these people give up, what they sacrifice for others,” he said.
Local advocates blame fast-rising rents in the Portland metro area for exceeding what federal housing choice vouchers can cover for veterans.
Those vouchers help veterans and others pay for private rental housing.
Portland housing groups presented recent market data to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and as a result, HUD granted a waiver that allows them to cover up to 120 percent of what HUD considers the fair market value rent on properties.
“The reason they were willing to do it is because the market is so difficult right now,” said Jill Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Home Forward, which fought for the waiver.
Smith said HUD estimates the fair market value of units based on census data from 2008-2012. That data no longer reflects Portland rents, which have climbed steadily for the past three years.