By State Representative Rob Nosse
There is no one in this city who has not felt the impact of our current housing crisis. In my work at the legislature, I am focused on the Behavioral Health facet of this issue, but I want to talk about the work being done at the city and county level, and when we can all expect to feel its impact.
Just two weeks ago, Multnomah County and the City of Portland both voted in favor of a joint $40 million effort. These funds are going to be used for the short-term side of this crisis.
They will build 400 new shelter beds, increase the number of outreach teams that help those living on the street connect with housing and social service providers, expand behavioral health services to help those in crisis on our streets, and double the staff of the program which cleans unsanctioned camps and picks up trash.
To be clear, this package alone will not solve houselessness in Portland, but it will help make this city more livable for everyone, including those suffering from houselessness.
Too often, however, problem solving stops at the immediate crisis. We have to do more to solve this issue longer term.
The root of this problem is the lack of affordable housing. This has been a problem in Portland for a while, but it was made worse during the Great Recession of 2009.
To address this, in 2016 and 2018, Portland voters passed housing bonds focused on building 5,200 units of new affordable housing. There are now around 15 projects totaling 1,861 units of affordable housing either open or in development across the city, thanks to these two funding sources.
They will continue to produce new units of affordable housing in coming years and while the impact of these changes may be slow to be felt, it will be long lasting. In our area of Portland, you can see affordable housing starting to be built with bond money at 3000 SE Powell Blvd.
While this is good news for preventing houselessness in the long term, it is true that an individual who has been chronically houseless often needs support transitioning into permanent housing. Housing alone will not solve their challenges.
In the spring of 2020, Portlanders voted to approve a Metro Ballot Measure often referred to as “Here Together” to fund supportive housing and other services to address chronic houselessness across the metro region.
Supportive housing refers to programs that help houseless people move into housing and maintain that housing with the help of free on-site social services, ranging from detox programs to medical care to childcare.
The measure created a regional one percent marginal tax rate on incomes over $200,000 a year for a joint household and a single household income over $125,000. A one percent business tax on profits for regional businesses with sales over $5 million was also created.
The tax measure requires that 20 percent of the money be used for short-term, immediate programs. In Multnomah County, that means helping people currently living in shelters secure permanent housing, putting investments in additional shelters and offering rent assistance to people at risk of houselessness.
Our region started collecting this tax in July of this year and has begun allocating it based on county plans.
Periodically in this column and in regular emails I am going to list how it is being utilized. You can visit heretogetheroregon.org for details.
The last thing I want to mention is that Multnomah County is building a new Behavioral Health Resource Center which will house 42 people in the mental health shelter and 20 people in the bridge to housing program.
Additionally, there will be a day center to provide a place for folks to hang out, get a cup of coffee and a sandwich, take a shower, do laundry, get their mail, get support from peers, establish relationships and get plugged into services.
I’m hopeful this will reduce the number of folks arrested for petty crimes, allow more folks to get signed up for Medicaid because they have a mailing address and make the powerful connections that finally convinces folks to voluntarily access treatment.
There is no simple solution to this crisis, no one change that will solve it, but I think it often feels like nothing is being done so I wanted to write about the important work being done right now. The impact cannot come soon enough.