Once Again, Joint Office of Homeless Services Vastly Underspends Budget

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson slams latest quarterly results: “The underspending is simply unacceptable.”

A CLEAN, WELL-LIGHTED PLACE: An unhoused person reads a book at a county warming shelter in 2023. (Blake Benard)

The Joint Office of Homeless Services spent only about half the money that voters approved in 2020 to reduce chronic homelessness in Multnomah County, according to its latest quarterly report.

For the period Jan. 1 through March 31, the agency spent $18 million that the Metro supportive housing services measure generated. That sounds like a lot, but its budget was double that: about $36 million for the period.

As WW has previously reported, even after significantly underspending its Metro money last fiscal year, the Joint Office has fallen badly behind this year’s plan.

Through three-quarters of fiscal 2023, the agency’s new report shows, the Joint Office planned to spend $83.4 million, but it has actually spent only about $40 million, or less than half.

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, to whom the Joint Office reports, issued a strong statement about the new numbers.

“These metrics reflect a significant amount of underspent dollars, money that desperately needs to be put to good use,” Vega Pederson said. “The underspending is simply unacceptable.”

Vega Pederson says she will take immediate action to get more money on the street, including meeting with Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office (the city of Portland is the county’s partner in the Joint Office) and Metro to identify short-term targets; meeting with contractors to identify logjams; and bringing in a consultant with national experience “to advise about organizational and structural changes to improve service delivery.”

The Joint Office’s new report shows the three greatest areas of underspending in percentage terms are long-term rent assistance (just 15% of the annual budget of $9.5 million has been spent); short-term housing assistance (23% of $32.7 million budgeted); and permanent supportive housing services (29% of $15.5 million has been spent).

Vega Pederson announced the hiring of Dan Field, a veteran Kaiser Permanente executive, as the Joint Office’s new director last month. The new report makes it clear how much work Field has ahead of him.

Some of the Joint Office’s contractors have told WW they simply cannot hire staff based on the compensation embedded in the Joint Office’s contracts. Vega Pederson said staff pay is among the many issues she wants fixed. She called for “refined contracting policies and procedures that address provider budgets, performance, quality improvement, innovation and outcomes.”

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