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City, county leaders promise $30 million for 'housing emergency'

City and county leaders pledged to spend $30 million to help ending an affordable housing and homelessness emergency last Wednesday.

Speaking at a morning press conference, Mayor Charlie Hales said a short-term goal was providing shelter for women, children and people with disabilities who are living on the streets by the end of the year. The location of the shelters was not announced.

“For too long I think we’ve stayed rooted in a realization that these problems can’t be solved overnight and some of them can’t be. But I want us to recognize that there are some things that we can move quickly on,” Mayor Hales said.

Much of the money may not be available until the start of the next fiscal year, which begins on July, 2016, however.

Others at the press conference included County Chair Deborah Kafoury, city commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman, and regional housing officals.

Hales and Kafoury said $20 million will come from the city and $10 million from the county. The city’s $20 million will come from new and existing sources, identified through budget processes. According to Hales, city sources include a plentiful general fund, a possible home demolition tax, and using more urban renewal funds.

“We’re not rolling in money — we don’t have 30 million dollars in a desk drawer. But what we do have is the ability to reprogram some of the money in our general fund now that its healthy,” Hales said.

The money will go to A Home For Everyone, an initiative created by the city and county. According to Hales, it will used to fund shelter beds for women and families, and for new affordable housing units, including mental health housing, and for protections for tenants who are facing housing instability because of a dramatic rise in rents.

A breakdown released after the press conference identified the funding priorities as: $10 million to create 250 more units for homeless people; $5 million for shelter operations; $2.5 million for eviction prevention; and $12.5 million for housing placement, rent assistance and support services.

Hales said he would ask the City Council to declare a state of emergency last week. At that time, he said the declaration would allow the city to:

? Waive zoning codes.

? Convert city-owned buildings into shelters through an expedited process.

? Work with Multnomah County, which can request that Gov. Kate Brown declare a state of emergency in Portland, as well. That would waive portions of the state building codes, which would allow for the conversion of buildings to shelters, and to expedite the building of the new, permanent supportive housing site for those who have been served by the Unity Center, the soon-to-be-created psychiatric emergency center in Portland.

“When I came into office, the single-night count of homeless told us we had 1,800 Portlanders sleeping unsheltered. That same count, two years later, barely budged. And yet we had spent millions of dollars and countless staff time,” Hales said. “We’ve tried slow-and-steady. We’ve tried by-the-book. It’s time to add the tools we currently lack,” said then.

The council will consider the declaration on Oct. 7.

KOIN News 6 contributed to this story.