‘No apartment should sit unoccupied’: Joint Office launches ‘Move-In Multnomah,’ with new incentives – and a call for landlords – to help people leave streets, shelters

April 27, 2022

PORTLAND – Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury on Wednesday, April 27, announced a new strategy – along with a public recruitment push – meant to encourage landlords with available apartments to step up and quickly help house hundreds more neighbors experiencing homelessness who might otherwise remain stuck in shelters or on the street with nowhere else to go. 

That initiative – called “Move-In Multnomah” – follows months of planning by the Joint Office of Homeless Services. Chair Kafoury unveiled the effort at a media event alongside Shannon Singleton, the Joint Office’s interim director.

They were joined by Julia Delgado, vice president of the Urban League of Portland; Violet Larry, a community landlord; and Ricco Mejia, a front-line service provider with Central City Concern.

Watch a recording of the Move-In Multnomah kickoff press event here.

Move-In Multnomah offers interested landlords a series of newly available incentives and supports, alongside a promise to rapidly connect those landlords to community service providers and their clients in need.

“I believe in both/and solutions to homelessness. I’ve helped lead the single largest shelter expansion in our history, and now it’s time to supercharge our work ensuring people have a place to go after, or instead of, shelter,” Chair Kafoury said. “People need stable housing. Landlords have vacant units. We can cover the rent and keep people stable. So let’s work together. Because no apartment should sit unoccupied while our neighbors are fighting for survival outside.”

Landlords who fill out a new, streamlined application form by June 30 – available through multco.us/movein – will receive the following benefits:

  • Rent guarantees for up to 12 months (duration of a lease)
  • Holding fees to cover rents for vacant units while a tenant is being secured
  • A hotline for housing providers to connect with tenant case managers if needed
  • Damage coverage: Resources to cover damages beyond the cost of the security deposit

Any property owner with housing units available for rent can participate. The units do not need to be certified for low-income tenants or Section 8. Landlords must only be willing to provide available units at market rate and also work to reduce certain screening criteria that might limit someone’s options as they leave homelessness.

Singleton said the more landlords who are willing to enter the work – and grow or deepen their connections with service providers – the bigger the difference the community can make for people experiencing chronic homelessness. The key is providing case management and other services at the same time as an affordable, stable place to live.

“Just because someone has been out of housing for a long time doesn’t mean they can’t succeed in housing,” Singleton said. “It’s ‘housing first.’ It has never been ‘housing only.’ But for housing first to work, we need to have homes for people to move into.”

Violet Larry, center top, Shannon Singleton, top right, Julia Delgado, bottom right, and Chair Deborah Kafoury, bottom left, at the launch event for Move-In Multnomah.

Landlord appeals to other landlords: ‘You’ll be supported, and you’ll be making a difference’

The goal is to overcome one of the most significant barriers people face when working to end their homelessness: finding not just a landlord with one of the thousands of units available on any given day, but also one who’s willing to rent it to someone leaving homelessness.

Larry said the certainty of knowing rent will be paid on time – and the partnership with a service provider to manage any challenges – are powerful and effective incentives. She said any landlord with doubts should look at her own experience working with the Urban League of Portland.

Her family has had rental properties for decades, she said, and they worked on their own to lease to people in need at below-market-rate rents. Sometimes, she said, tenants wouldn’t pay on time, or at all.    

But then came an opportunity, brought by a prospective tenant, to partner with the Urban League and provide supportive housing through a program called Project Haven. The tenant had a case manager and said the Urban League would take care of details like ensuring the rent was paid.  

“Really? We don’t have to worry about anything? We were pretty skeptical,” Larry said. 

“But it’s been the best partnership we could have had. The case management experience that they provide, and the services provided to the tenants, have been amazing.”

Larry urged other landlords to sign up and apply through Move-In Multnomah’s online application portal. 

“You’re not alone. The tenant isn’t alone,” she said. “You’ll be supported, and you’ll be making a difference in this community.”

‘Any unit of housing can be made into permanent supportive housing’

Move-In Multnomah builds on the Joint Office’s ongoing work successfully helping to house thousands of people every year, offering a mix of rent assistance and support services such as case management and treatment. Some housing placements are in designated affordable units, but many are in apartments already on the market.

Tenants placed with landlords who sign up through Move-In Multnomah will work with the same housing services providers already contracting with the Joint Office.

Those providers, like the Urban League and others, already have extensive experience navigating landlord relationships while providing case management. That includes work helping people who are considered chronically homeless, meaning they have a disabling condition and have experienced homelessness for more than a year.

“We move folks directly from the streets to community-based housing,” Delgado said.

Delgado said tenants in supportive housing provided through the Urban League actually have a higher rate of stability – 98 percent – than tenants in the general market. Most had experienced homelessness for roughly four years. 

“Any unit of housing can be made into permanent supportive housing,” she noted, “by matching people with the rent assistance they need, the services they require, and using existing community-based housing that is vacant right now.” 

‘It’s about victory and hope and love and support’

Mejia, from Central City Concern, said the 19 months he spent in supportive housing changed his life.

He was on the streets, he said, for 15 years – sleeping “in every doorway and every park in the Portland area.” His family wouldn’t let them in their homes. He was kicked out of hospitals. He even got a lifetime ban from the former Hooper Detox Center.

After a stint in jail, he entered a recovery housing program with Central City Concern, and then moved into a more traditional apartment while still receiving support services. He re-entered the workforce and now serves as manager of Central City Concern’s River Haven housing program.

“That’s a big deal with supportive housing. We just don’t send someone to a landlord and give them a key to move in,” he said. “Everything we do is about helping people in homelessness get back to self-sufficiency.”

Right now, despite all his past challenges, Mejia said he’s on the verge of buying a home of his own.

“My movie was a sad movie. It was a bunch of loss and pain and hurt and disappointment,” he said. “But once we get to the resources and services, and get some support, we get to do our movie, part two. My movie is like a ‘Rocky 3’ movie. It’s about victory and hope and love and support.” 

Funding for the new incentives is made possible by revenue from the Supportive Housing Services measure, which first became available this fiscal year. That measure, along with surplus revenue from the County and City of Portland’s business income tax, is helping the Joint Office dramatically expand services in the face of rising need driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By June 30, thanks to newly opened shelters and the lifting of pandemic limits at certain spaces, the Joint Office will be supporting roughly 2,100 shelter beds. The office is requesting funds to support nearly 2,700 next fiscal year. That would roughly double the number available in January 2020, before COVID-19.

At the same time, between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2021, the Joint Office and its providers housed 1,780 people out of homelessness. And they helped thousands of others – adults, families with children, seniors, people with disabilities – who’d been housed in previous months remain in those homes.