Should Metro Take Back Homeless Dollars for Housing?

We asked Multnomah County candidates.

A man wrapped in a blanket outside Providence Park. (Wesley Lapointe)

As the May primary election approaches, among the most crucial contests are those for the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. Those races carry an expectation: that the winners will break the deep freeze in the county’s spending of tax dollars to reduce homelessness.

Multnomah County has consistently struggled to get hundreds of millions of supportive housing services tax dollars out the door on time. Amid those struggles, the regional government Metro, which oversees the tax, is considering placing a measure on the November ballot that would divert some of the tax revenue and use it to build affordable housing. (Metro has exhausted the money from its most recent housing bond.)

In a rare instance of solidarity, the five sitting Multnomah County commissioners have collectively pummeled the proposal, arguing that taking dollars from the county would undermine the will of the voters and undercut the system it’s built to decrease homelessness.

We asked the leading contenders in the two most competitive county commissioner races—in Districts 1 and 2—to tell us where they stood on the matter.

WW asked: Do you support Metro taking back some of supportive housing services money for affordable housing, and why or why not?


Vadim Mozyrsky: No.

“While I am open to the idea of using supportive housing services tax funding for affordable housing construction, I question whether we are at the point yet where we can comfortably divert taxpayer money away from immediate homeless service needs. There is no question that the county commission has failed to timely and effectively spend its allocation of the SHS tax. However, we are at an inflection point where the Legislature has afforded us new tools to address some of the underlying causes of chronic homelessness. The newly elected county commissioners will have an opportunity to make a dramatic impact on reducing homelessness which would also serve to alleviate the budgetary drain on the city and fill the service gaps in the transition from temporary shelter to permanent housing. We should also avoid mission creep on the part of Metro by exploring ways the county can create affordable housing as part of the recovery and stabilization continuum for our homeless population. In the meantime, Metro should continue to improve how it oversees the county’s use of SHS tax dollars.”

Meghan Moyer: No.

“It is my strong preference that Multnomah County keep the funding once they put forward a comprehensive plan to use all of this year’s funding on projects that will come online within the next 12 months targeted specifically on transitional and supportive housing with supports for people experiencing addiction and mental health issues. I support Metro using the threat of taking the money back to demand an actionable plan, accountability for funding, and measurable results. I morally object to the lack of urgency I see while people are literally dying on the streets. We must demand accountability and results. I support Metro using the threat of taking away the funds to achieve that, if that is what it takes. I beg Multnomah County and the Joint Office on Homeless Services to treat our current situation as the disaster it is and move quickly and decisively. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, compromise in order to make progress. Delegate but hold people accountable. Act boldly and unite our community behind this effort. Let the threat of Metro taking back these funds be the catalyst needed to finally see bold action. Prove to Metro this action is not needed.”

Kevin Fitts: Yes.

“Metro, as the only regional Housing Development Corporation akin to HUD, has a unique responsibility to address housing and homelessness across the metro area. I strongly support Metro’s proposal to use a portion of SHS tax for affordable housing construction. New ballot measure should include: •Clear goals and metrics for the number and type of affordable housing units •Equitable distribution focused on job growth and public transportation •Long-term affordability • Support services for residents • We should assertively focus on housing development for those earning 0-30% of the Area Median Income (AMI). Affordable housing must be accessible to those in the lowest income brackets and not prohibitive for those living on fixed incomes or disability benefits.

I want Metro to take a strong, active role in setting regional standards; hold jurisdictions accountable; collaborate with counties, understand their needs, and provide resources and technical assistance; foster innovation and responsiveness, allow flexibility to adapt to evolving needs. As County Commissioner I would gladly help support and encourage Metro to continue to fulfill its regional responsibility regarding housing with clarity and conviction. A partnership between Metro and counties, with shared commitment and leveraging of strengths, is essential for creating an equitable, stable, and thriving community.”

Margot Wheeler: No.

“I am strongly against Metro taking back SHS money because:

1. It is not what voters approved. Significant changes to structure that are not endorsed or intended by affected residents is reprehensible

2. Expands yet another local government agency

3. Will delay results due to ramp and will create additional administrative roles and costs within Metro

4. Does not address the over-collection of the tax and only legitimizes this unacceptable behavior

5. Increases the complexity coordinating with multiple levels of government; the City of Portland and Multnomah County have already struggled to coordinate services and adding an additional layer will not improve outcomes

6. Leaves fewer dollars for the individual counties to utilize and punishes the counties that have been effective

We need to focus on Multnomah County’s responsibility to quickly and effectively utilize the tax revenue, rather than letting it languish as it has. There is a problem and it is rooted in County operations. Giving Metro SHS funds doesn’t solve our current problems and will not bring accountability to SHS. My focus will be on spending money the County already has by prioritizing funding for effective service providers and strictly monitoring their outcomes.”


Shannon Singleton: Yes.

“I do support using some of the SHS money for affordable housing and want to be sure that we are being smart with taxpayer dollars and not only looking at new development opportunities but also acquisition and land banking opportunities. We are collecting unexpected amounts in revenue, and I believe we can both build new housing and keep the social services support system we’ve built intact.”

Sam Adams: Yes.

“To effectively tackle our homelessness and affordable housing crisis, we must take a comprehensive approach. This entails providing the necessary services to support individuals in their transition out of homelessness and creating new affordable housing for them to live in. It’s crucial to understand that these two components are interdependent, and the success of one relies on the other.

“The Metro and city of Portland affordable housing bonds have delivered on their promises and beyond. But that’s only a fraction of the need, and those funding streams are now fully obligated. We cannot stop building more affordable housing—especially deeply affordable units the market cannot produce. However, polls show the prospects for a new housing bond measure are doubtful.

“SHS funding has massively exceeded initial revenue estimates, and we have all seen that the counties have struggled to spend that money effectively. Using some of that money to continue to build affordable housing while continuing to fund services simply makes sense. Using SHS funds also unlocks some flexibility that enables us to do more, with less, and more quickly. Of course, the details will matter, but this strategy is worth pursuing. We need both services and housing production.”

Jessie Burke: No.

“I do not support Metro taking back some of the SHS money. While Multnomah County has been ineffective in dispersing funds, Metro is even more ineffective. Supportive housing services dollars were intended for our most vulnerable who need support where they live, but nearly all of it has been redirected to build affordable housing with no support programs on site. It’s no wonder we haven’t seen progress; we have been trying to solve chronic homelessness, often rooted in addiction and mental illness, without any expansion of residential drug treatment or mental health care. We MUST redirect SHS funds into substance use disorder systems of care, including robust housing with on-site treatment. We cannot establish deflection programs, as is required with House Bill 4002, without this type of housing in place. It is a circular logic that will result in absolutely no changes on the ground. People will die in jail or on the streets if we keep providing halfhearted recovery efforts to our most vulnerable. We must focus these dollars on the actual needs of those living outside struggling with addiction and mental illness. It is disingenuous to the voter to use these dollars in any other way.”

Nick Hara: Yes.

“In order to have a housing first policy, we must have housing first. The SHS bond cannot be used for permanent housing. Under current plans the region is facing a shortage of nearly 75,000 affordable units.There are no proposals currently to fully fill our housing gap. Redirecting SHS funds to Metro would get us only a fraction of the way there. My housing plan focuses on an all-of-the-above strategy. Increase incentives for section 9 vouchers, work with Home Forward to maximize its public housing stock, create municipal public housing, and create penalties for unoccupied units.Our housing crisis is part of a larger livability crisis. Wage stagnation and cost increases have made one half of all households in Multnomah cost-burdened. I tackle our affordable housing crisis as a regional economic one. We need new green industries that favor union labor for working class residents. High-wage opportunities reduce cost-burdens and make the region more livable. Metro’s proposal to reallocate some SHS dollars must be part of a larger livability initiative within the region.”

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