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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Multnomah County has hit a milestone in its goal to end chronic homelessness and keep people from becoming homeless.
The county’s Board of Commissioners approved an agreement with the regional government Metro on Thursday, Jan. 27, setting the terms of oversight and distribution for an anticipated $1 billion tax revenue over the next decade as part of the Supportive Housing Services measure.
The board’s unanimous approval of its agreement marks the final step in a regional process, with Washington and Clackamas counties having already approved their agreements with Metro.
“This was an ambitious undertaking, coming to agreement between all three counties and Metro on a 10-year contract to govern the administration of this critical new revenue stream to tackle homelessness in our region,” said Marc Jolin, director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which includes Portland and the county.
Voters passed the measure in 2020 to address a growing regional homelessness crisis by funding a wide range of supportive services such as housing placements, sheltering, rental assistance, outreach, mental health and addiction treatment and more. Revenue for the services is collected using a 1% income tax for high-earning households and businesses with more than $5 million in receipts.
After Metro approved local implementation plans from Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties last spring, funding for the program started flowing to the counties last July through revenue-sharing agreements with Metro.
In its first year, Multnomah County brought in $52 million as part of the measure for the Joint Office of Homeless Services to spend on programs. The county budgeted $24.6 million for housing, rent assistance and supportive services; $10.25 million to boost shelter capacity; $11.3 million to build capacity through supporting providers; $2.45 million to increase street outreach and navigation; and $3.4 million to coordinate regional and to develop data reporting and analysis.
The agreement approved Thursday establishes Multnomah County’s responsibility to develop and implement strategies to achieve locally determined goals for addressing homelessness, Jolin told commissioners. Metro’s role, he said, is to collect and distribute tax revenue and provide oversight and accountability.
Jolin described two regional staff committees’ key roles in the accountability and oversight of the measure.
An executive committee is tasked with monitoring how the implementation of the measure is going, acting to make improvements and to address problems, among other roles, he said.
Additionally, the chief financial officers of each government established a financial review team to monitor funding adequacy for the measure, said Eric Arellano, chief financial officer for Multnomah County.
The team will produce a five-year forecast of the measure’s tax collections and spending, annually, serving as a regionwide advisory body to assess financial health and support implementation.
“These are two brand new taxes with a lot of volatility, and it’s important that we monitor the activity and collections early on in the process,” Arellano said.
The agreement also allows counties to set aside revenue within annual budgets for multiple funds to account for revenue instability and emergencies and support regional planning and investment reporting, he said.
Certain funds, such as a 10% reserve to protect against financial instability and to insulate programs, are required. Others funds, such as an emergency reserve fund of 5%, are voluntary.
Jolin also outlined how the agreement provides for two region-wide groups comprised largely of community members who will oversee the measure.
The Regional Oversight Committee, which already has been formed and oversaw the approval of each county’s local implement plan, is tasked with reviewing plans and reports and providing recommendations on challenges and outcomes.
Measure partners currently are asking for community members to apply to be part of a tri-county planning body to strengthen coordination and to create a region-wide plan for investments.
Commissioners each thanked staff for months of work to develop the agreement, noting the complexity of the negotiating work between each government.
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal acknowledged that complexity in her comments, saying, “We’ve got three counties, we have a regional body, we have oversight function, we have policy-making function, we have program function, and you had to figure out how to, sort of, work through how all of those things were going to land. The process of getting to the document is the important part. It’s really going to set the framework for the next 10 years.”
Since it began receiving revenue, Multnomah County reports that it has provided $26.4 million in contracts to support the measure’s broad goals, with additional money from its year-one funds committed.
During the next 10 years, Multnomah County’s goals include creating 2,235 supportive housing units, helping 2,500 households per year exit homelessness, preventing 1,000 households per year from becoming homeless through intervention programs, and eliminating disparities in access for people of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by racially discriminatory housing practices and disinvestment from support services.
The county reports that it has provided housing placements for 1,200 people since July 2021, including 325 people housed through measure funding.
It has used funding from the measure to create more than 1,000 new supportive housing units.
Additionally, the county has added 338 shelter beds to its capacity of the 400-bed goal for the first year of the measure, with about 800 more on the way.
The county also reports that it has spent $2.8 million in revenue from the measure on rent assistance, helping thousands of families avoid homelessness, and provided $2 million to support several nonprofits and groups to provide navigation, outreach and other support services.