The Feds Created Emergency Housing Vouchers in May. Portland is Failing to Use Them.

Other Oregon counties and many west coast cities are deploying the vouchers more effectively.

Portland-area public housing authority Home Forward continues to lag badly behind other West Coast cities when it comes to deploying the federal emergency housing vouchers Congress issued in May to pay rent for people who were homeless or on the verge becoming so.

At the time, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who fought to include the vouchers in a federal bailout package, said he hoped the vouchers would keep “vulnerable Oregonians safe and housed.”

Wyden’s wishes came true, but only in part: Clackamas County has secured leases with each of the 41 vouchers it received, a 100% success rate, while Washington County has secured leases for 56 of the 89 vouchers it received (63%).

But as WW first reported Dec. 16, Home Forward, the public housing authority for Multnomah County, has struggled to use the 476 emergency vouchers it received.

A database maintained by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, shows that as of Jan. 16, Home Forward had issued just 17 vouchers—the first step in getting a person or family housed—and secured just five leases. That is a far worse performance than other big Oregon counties—and far worse than many other West Coast cities experiencing widespread homelessness.

Home Forward officials declined interview requests, responding instead to written questions. Agency spokeswoman Monica Foucher says it is currently working with 130 applicants (that is not a metric HUD tracks, making comparison to other jurisdictions impossible).

Foucher adds that Home Forward and its partner agencies are trying to deploy the emergency vouchers while simultaneously administering other housing programs and doing so without additional staff.

Foucher says the task is “more complex here than in other communities where the array of service providers may be much smaller,” adding, “all of this is happening in the context of operating in a pandemic, where many of the people and organizations providing and administering emergency resources are the same people and organizations tasked with addressing the pandemic.”

Wyden introduced legislation in August that would fund staff and capacity expansions for housing authorities such as Home Forward.

But in the meantime, he wants to see the vouchers used.

“While Sen. Wyden is glad for any sign of progress toward getting every available emergency housing voucher in the hands of a vulnerable Oregonian who needs them now, he also knows the job is not done until that goal is fully accomplished,” Wyden spokesman Hank Stern says. “Achieving that objective as quickly as possible is the ultimate measure of success, and he’ll keep pushing local officials to distribute all the extra vouchers.”