Clackamas County’s housing plan gets C grade from advocates

Clackamas County

Elected board members outline recent efforts to help homeless people in response to leaders urging them to do more

COURTESY RENDERING: METRO – Fuller Road Station Family Housing, a 100-unit complex planned near a MAX Green Line stop in Clackamas County, is set to open next year.

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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Clackamas County commissioners, in response to last month’s joint letter from nearly 160 community leaders urging increased spending on supportive housing services, said the county has either “completed” or is “well underway” on the immediate actions requested.

In the response, commissioners wrote this month that the county is on track to achieve 75% of its first-year goal for serving households, as outlined in a Local Implementation Plan based on an approximate projection of $24 million in tax revenues from a Metro-wide Supportive Housing Services measure passed by voters in May 2020.

The business and personal income tax, which raises money for supportive housing services in the metro area, is estimated to generate upwards of $200 million annually for 10 years, with funds distributed proportionally among Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.

Recent housing actions taken by the board include its Oct. 18 approval of $1.7 million to be allocated among three nonprofits, followed by a Nov. 2 approval of $2.23 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for emergency sheltering. As of Nov. 1, per the county’s letter, 29 contracts between the board and landlords in the county are in place to provide at-risk tenants or unhoused individuals with permanent rent assistance.

“We appreciate the ongoing passion, engagement and support of our valued elected, nonprofit and civic-minded partners,” the board wrote in the letter, vowing to “continue to invest time and resources toward our shared goal of ending chronic homelessness.”

Commissioners are responding to a letter originally organized and sent to the board by housing coalition HereTogether, calling upon the board to act on four key directives to expedite the impact of the supportive housing measure.

Advocates in the letter are particularly critical of the board’s decision to reduce its first-year supportive-housing budget from the $24 million advised by Metro to a $10 million budget, now increased to roughly $14 million, following what commissioners have maintained was a “delay” in tax revenues — although Metro and HereTogether officials say the board incorrectly assumed funds would be available in full nearly one year before taxes are being collected.

Commissioners have repeatedly said they were made to believe that they would be receiving the full $24 million in tax revenues on July 1, however, Metro spokesperson Nick Christensen said that was never the plan and, “Clackamas County’s finance team should be aware of the basic fiscal reality that income taxes are collected by April 15 the following year.

“Metro never anticipated distributing $24 million on July 1,” Christensen said. “We expected to distribute the majority of the funding after people file their taxes on April 15, 2022.”

According to Christensen, Metro’s recommendation that the tri-counties each base their supportive housing budgets on a $24 million estimate was “to be conservative,” yet they instead estimate closer to $32 million per county will be available in full after tax day 2022.

Despite several reported follow-up interactions between the county and Metro to clear up the reported miscommunications about revenue disbursements, supportive-housing contract negotiations between the two government agencies remain incomplete.

Angela Martin, executive director of housing coalition HereTogether, said it isn’t good enough for the board to implement only 75% of its plan when unhoused Clackamas County residents continue to be underserved.

“It shows that the commissioners are okay with a C,” Martin said, juxtaposing the metaphorical grade with Multnomah and Washington counties, which she said are both proceeding with their full implementation budgets.

Martin said that while HereTogether is “encouraged” to see the latest steps the board has taken towards supportive-housing implementation, the coalition maintains that the Clackamas County board’s current pace is causing unhoused communities to wait longer than necessary for the aid they need.

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