The Multnomah County Board took a step forward in its efforts to fight homelessness by dedicating $5.7 million in Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) settlement revenue for rental assistance and shelter beds.
The board approved $1 million in rental assistance for some the county’s most vulnerable populations: homeless families, youth, veterans, seniors, communities of color and domestic violence victims. Another $4.7 million will fund new shelter beds.
“We have an urgent need to be ready to move quickly if and when we are able to identify properties for shelter that it makes sense to acquire,” said Marc Jolin, director of A Home for Everyone, which is the a regional effort to combat homelessness.
The decision builds on the city of Portland and Multnomah County’s deepening level of collaboration in the homeless crisis. Progress has been made with the Human Solutions Family Center year-round shelter, which opened in February with funding from Multnomah County and other community contributions.
“We opened almost 300 new beds of shelter for families, women, couples, veterans and men,” Jolin said, “but those beds all filled virtually the moment they were open. Unfortunately, 270 of the beds -for women, couples veterans and men -- are at temporary sites and will have to close at the end of May and June.”
Rapidly rising rents and a less than three percent rental vacancy is also taxing placement and eviction prevention dollars for the county and its community partners.
Two years ago, the cost to place a family and provide up to six months of rent assistance averaged $5,000 per household. The costs now average between $6,000 and $8,500 per household and are trending upward each month.
Leaders from community organizations including: El Programa Hispano Catolico, Bradley Angle, JOIN, Self-Enhancement, Inc., and Transition Projects explained to the Board of County Commissioner about how money is running out.
“There’s no more money,” said Libra Forde, director of Community & Family Programs with Self Enhancement, Inc. “Saying that to a person in need every day is absolutely depressing.”
“People from historically marginalized communities and communities of colors are facing the additional barriers,” said Jackie Yerby, executive director of Bradley Angle.
Board members unanimously approved the decision but recognized there’s still work to do and fast.
“I’m not patting myself on the back here today,” said Chair Kafoury. “I think we’re realizing the really pressing need in the community and how sad it is when there’s families in dire need and you have to tell them we have nothing available for them.”
The funding was made possible by the county’s legal settlement with MERS, a national mortgage registry company which allowed members to quickly buy and sell bundled mortgages without the time and expense of recording each transfer with county governments across the country.
The remaining settlement funds, $421,642, will go towards the county general fund contingency.