A first-of-its-kind funding partnership between the State of Oregon, Multnomah County and the City of Portland, announced Friday, July 27, will foster new models of supportive housing and build on the community’s ongoing response to chronic homelessness.
The Portland Housing Bureau (PHB), together with the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Multnomah County Mental Health & Addiction Services, and Oregon Housing and Community Services, are offering $12 million for proposals that not only combine housing and mental health services but also keep costs down by embracing the efficiency of single-room-occupancy (SRO) housing.
People experiencing mental health disabilities are the fastest growing segment of the population experiencing homelessness in Multnomah County. PHB’s Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) calls on the development community and service providers for housing proposals that find cost efficiencies, demonstrate innovative designs, and integrate support services in projects focused on homeless individuals experiencing mental illness.
The funding opportunity marks the first time funding to build affordable housing has been bundled with funding for the services residents will need to thrive in that housing. It also marks a first-of-its-kind partnership with the state.
“For some people, having an apartment or a room they can afford isn’t enough on its own to end their homelessness. They need supportive housing,” County Chair Deborah Kafoury said at a news conference announcing the funds.
“Sometimes that means housing with addiction treatment. Sometimes it means housing with counseling support from a community of peers. Or sometimes it means independent living with regular visits from a case manager,” she said. “Whatever it looks like, we need to make sure that once someone has a home, they get the support they need to stay in their home.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler said the funding opportunity is crucial for Portland and the County’s shared goal of creating an average of 200 supportive units a year for the next 10 years. The current offer is expected to create a minimum of 50 units, but could add more. Those units would join scores of other units that have been added since the goal was adopted last fall.
“We as a region are leveraging partnerships and resources in a targeted effort to address chronic homelessness with best practices and innovation,” Mayor Wheeler said. Now, we are asking the development community and our service providers to come forward and help us with the innovation we need to take these efforts to the next level.”
Supportive housing combines accessible, affordable housing with supportive services, including mental health and addiction treatment. By providing construction funding in the form of a large, upfront grant, instead of requiring a developer to finance construction like in a typical project, the funding offer is expected to keep rents affordable for several decades by eliminating the need for debt service.
The partners hope to encourage creative proposals for a replicable, cost-effective model that can be used to continue expanding supportive housing options, with a focus on projects that update the single-room occupancy (SRO) concept.
The Portland Housing Bureau is contributing $10 million in capital funding, with Oregon Housing and Community Services providing $2 million in capital from the state’s Mental Health Housing Fund, and the Joint Office of Homeless Services and Multnomah County Mental Health & Addiction Services providing a combined $350,000 annually for services.
“The need for more permanent supportive housing exists across the entire state. And we know that it works. With that in mind, Oregon Housing and Community Services is thrilled to contribute $2 million to the City of Portland’s efforts to increase supportive housing and end homelessness and housing instability for Oregon’s most vulnerable community members,” said Margaret Salazar, Director of Oregon Housing and Community Services.
The County and Portland have worked with partners among providers, faith communities and the business community to help thousands more people either avoid or leave homelessness over the past four years.
Four years ago, the City and County helped roughly 20,000 people annually. Last fiscal year, that number reached nearly 30,000, including record numbers of people placed into housing (4,900), offered rent assistance to stay housed (6,100) and offered a night in shelter (8,500).
Andrew Hoan, CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, acknowledged that progress during the press conference, which was held at an SRO-styled supportive housing facility operated by Central City Concern. He noted the Alliance’s support for two affordable housing measures and support for a $15 million business tax increase that will help pay for increased housing assistance.
But Hoan, who reflected on his conversations with residents before the press conference, said opportunities like Friday’s announcement will be key to continuing that momentum and helping people experiencing chronic homelessness.
“The future is about what they want to do for themselves and getting them to that point where they can create that future,” he said, adding that the the funding stream announced Friday “has to be a model for the future. We are not going to solve this crisis until we have an absolute focus on delivering critical services.”