Portland, like many cities throughout the United States, finds itself at a crossroads. How do we collectively tackle the housing crisis and begin to really put the resources needed into ending homelessness?
Anna Griffin’s series on homelessness in The Oregonian has provided the region with a broader perspective on the issue. People around the city, in doorways and under bridges, in coffee houses and pubs, in the halls of power and at neighborhood gatherings are all asking the same question. How can we tackle the housing crisis in our city?
Regional government leaders, foundations and supporters like you have been working for years to hold the line both politically and financially when it comes to housing thousands of people experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, after 30 years of divestment by the federal government from public housing, no regulations on maintaining affordable housing locally and multiple recessions, we still find ourselves asking the same questions.
What new ideas or tools can we use to specifically tackle the issue of homelessness and housing? That’s the question I posed to civic leaders, government officials and advocates. Here’s what they had to say.
Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County chair: I spent the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 28 at JOIN’s day center on Northeast 82nd Avenue. It was the second time I’ve participated in the one-night street and shelter count and the experience reminded me in a very tangible way how desperate the need for housing is in our community. It is my number one priority as Multnomah County chair.
Creating ‘A Home for Everyone’ and the collaboration between Multnomah County, the cities of Gresham and Portland, Home Forward and Meyer Memorial Trust was a first step toward creating a common agenda that will align policies and dollars to make new strategic investments.
This past month, we committed to end all veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and we were awarded a $2 million federal grant to house 130 chronically homeless households.
However, no matter how efficient or well-coordinated our system becomes, unless we have new tools such as inclusionary zoning and more dollars to develop affordable housing units, we won’t make a significant impact on the housing gap, especially for our extremely low-income neighbors.
Jes Larson, director of the Welcome Home Coalition (a coalition working to provide long-term supportive funding for affordable housing and homeless services):
We know housing is the antidote to homelessness. What we haven’t solved is our strategy to sufficiently fund our housing affordability infrastructure. Local communities historically relied on federal resources to fund affordable housing, but these funding streams have been cut dramatically year after year for the past four decades and newer state-level funding strategies have never filled the gap. After 30 years of divestment, we’ve created our modern-day rate of widespread homelessness and a housing crisis that affects most family budgets.
To solve homelessness, we need to act locally. We can learn from other U.S. cities acting locally by dedicating new revenue streams to fund affordable housing. For example, in Miami, Fla., a 1 percent dining tax generates $20 million annually and has reduced the city’s rate of homelessness from 8,000 to 800. That’s $1 for every $100 meal out ending homelessness.
Seattle’s property tax levy is another leading example. The average homeowner pays $65 a year, in turn generating $20 million for housing development, rent and homeownership assistance.
Boston, for example, uses a combination of developer fees on commercial and residential projects to produce nearly $20 million in affordable housing investments each year.
Many are familiar with San Francisco affordability crisis, where voters recently passed a ballot measure to require a $20 million set-aside from the city’s general fund for affordable housing, with a schedule to increase to $50 million by 2045.
These are just a few examples of how local communities are coming together to dedicate local funds to address local housing needs. It’s time for the Portland metro region to come together and decide how we will start to adequately reinvest in our affordable housing infrastructure.
Charlie Hales, Portland mayor: Better coordination of efforts by the city, county and private sector through the Home For Everyone planning process.
Encouraging the private sector to build affordable housing. Government projects can be slow and over-burdened with regulations. The private sector can build affordable housing well and quickly, and we need more housing stock.
Addressing the root causes of homelessness. That includes assisting people in mental health crises and who suffer from addiction. These aren’t the only causes but need to be addressed.
Walking beats. We heard from people without houses, activists, business owners and neighbors on Hawthorne: We have well-trained officers who understand the dynamic of homelessness, and who interact with everyone on the street. Because “arrests” isn’t the goal; serving the community is the goal. This works! We piloted this in 2014. You’ll see more in 2015.
Rapid re-housing and retention. Taking extra measures to stop chronic homelessness before it starts, uses housing resources more efficiently.
Ibrahim Mubarak, the co-founder of both Right 2 Dream Too and Dignity Village: Being able to end homelessness is a long shot. We can start by making housing affordable in the city to support all kinds of people. This would create more spending power in the city to create jobs and support small businesses.
In the meantime, projects like Right 2 Dream Too and transitional campgrounds can create short-term opportunities for people to simply have a safe place to rest.
Creating opportunities for a range of different people including women and families is critical. The reality is there are thousands of people sleeping outside and we can’t just continue to do what we’ve always done. We need out-of-the-box strategies that work toward stabilizing people’s lives and giving people the opportunity to get back on their feet.
Marc Jolin, director of A Home for Everyone: There are a lot of people in our community committed to ending homelessness, but there is no one for whom this issue is more urgent than the person who is spending tonight in a doorway or on a mat on a shelter floor.
Not only do the people experiencing homelessness feel the greatest sense of urgency around ending it, they also have the best insight into what support they will need to get into housing and remain there.
As we move into an era of greater coordination of homeless policy development and funding, that coordination needs to be built around the wisdom of those who have lived the experience of homelessness.
The most effective programs offer each individual and family the mix of support services that they identify as most critical to getting off the streets. The most effective policies give service providers the flexibility to deliver services in this way.
With A Home for Everyone we have an unprecedented opportunity to make real progress in the fight to end homelessness. Capitalizing on that opportunity will mean combining the wisdom of those experiencing homelessness with the capacity of our social service providers and the political leadership of our elected officials.
Nick Fish, Portland city commissioner: Everyone has a role to play in ending homelessness. Working together, we must act with urgency and purpose. No one should be forced to live on our streets.
Over the past decade, our community did something important. Leaders from government, philanthropy, business, non-profits and the faith community sat down and worked to find solutions to chronic homelessness. We made real progress. We developed new and innovative approaches and partnerships, and helped over 13,000 people move from the streets into homes.
Was it unrealistic to expect Portland to “end” homelessness? Too many families, children and veterans still live on our streets. And we are not alone; cities across the country are dealing with the same challenges. The question before us: Where do we go from here?
Restore a strong federal role in funding affordable housing, and place this issue at the heart of the 2016 presidential election.
Build more affordable homes for the lowest income families and individuals. Without an adequate supply, we will never achieve our ambitious goals. Lift the preemption on inclusionary zoning. Strengthen local coordination. We have a new framework for local cooperation called A Home for Everyone. Make it work.
Invest in long-term, cost-effective strategies. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or compromise on our values.
Janet Byrd, Neighborhood Partnerships: There’s no silver bullet that will end homelessness. There is only us. How serious are we about tackling homelessness in Oregon? Imagine what we could do if we really made ending homelessness our No. 1 civic priority. We could have housing of all shapes and sizes, more outreach, more services, and more money to keep the housing affordable. Here’s what we need to do now to achieve that vision:
Work together and work beyond the boundaries of organizational benefit or public acclaim. This is not about who gets credit for the work or who gets paid to do the work, but about whether all our neighbors have roofs over their heads.
Open our imagination to new approaches, and learn from and listen to each other in open conversations – we are taking amazing steps to find solutions throughout the state. We need to look squarely at what has worked, for whom it worked, who has not been reached and what has not worked well.
Call on our elected officials and legislators in cities and in Salem to dedicate real resources. We need investment into homes, sources of low-cost debt, land to locate homes near opportunities and policy tools that will help us create the communities we want to see.