From the Field: Portland, OR in Homeless State of Emergency

On September 24, Portland, OR Mayor Charlie Hales (D) announced his request to the City Council to declare a state of emergency to address the homelessness epidemic in the city. The Mayor pledged to reduce by half the estimated 1,800 people who are homeless in Portland on any given night.  Mr. Hales was joined by Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury to announce their request of $30 million in new emergency funding to be used for eviction prevention, new affordable housing, and shelter. The formal homelessness emergency declaration and funding are expected to be approved by the City Council the week of October 5. 

The Welcome Home Coalition, a partnership of more than 100 regional organizations in Portland that includes several NLIHC members and Oregon Opportunity Network, an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, will be looking to influence the use of these new resources.

Of the $30 million overall commitment, $20 million would come from the City of Portland and $10 million from Multnomah County. As proposed, approximately $15 million of the new allocation will be devoted to eviction prevention, rental assistance, and housing placement services and support. The amount is believed to be sufficient to prevent the displacement of more than 1,000 households at risk of homelessness. An additional $10 million will be devoted to the construction of new affordable housing. The remaining $5 million will be used to expand emergency shelter capacity by 650 beds.

Multnomah County officials have indicated that they will appeal to the State of Oregon for additional revenue support. Indeed the $30 million allocation is only a portion of the $50 million annual commitment that the Welcome Home Coalition estimates is necessary to address the affordable housing shortage in the Portland area over the next two decades.

A state of emergency declaration will allow the City of Portland to bypass zoning regulations and repurpose vacant municipally-owned buildings as shelter sites. There is an acute need for emergency shelters for homeless single women, which Mr. Hales is committed to addressing immediately. The City of Portland also may implement a policy to increase by more than 10% the time required for notices of no-fault evictions or rent increases. Tenant advocates believe that more advance notice of significant rent increases will reduce housing displacement by allowing renters more time to plan for a move.

In his announcement, Mr. Hales indicated that he hopes to establish Portland as a national model for how municipalities can effectively address the challenges of homelessness. Service providers and advocates are seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the significant impact that will be possible with increased funding and positive policy changes. “Housing advocates are thrilled by the collaborative actions of our local elected officials,” said Jes Larson, Welcome Home Coalition Director. “We see this additional investment of one-time resources and creative policy changes as necessary first steps in our community’s effort to end what is truly a housing state of emergency. In order to go the full distance and assure that all Portlanders can afford a place to call home, we must next invest in building back our affordable housing infrastructure.”

The announcement of Portland’s state of emergency on homelessness came one day after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and seven members of the LA City Council announced the same for Los Angeles. Mr. Garcetti’s planned efforts will involve a commitment of $100 million, with the specifics still to be determined. Mr. Garcetti has promised a comprehensive plan to address homelessness that is now months past its announced completion date, and the budget allocation still must be approved by the City Council. Los Angeles County has joined the effort with its own commitment of $51.1 million.

For more information about advocacy efforts around Portland state of emergency on homelessness, contact Jes Larson, Welcome Home Coalition Director, at [email protected].