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Portland officials ID rent assistance, arts groups, homeless among priorities for federal coronavirus relief funds

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 7/16/2020 By Everton Bailey Jr., oregonlive.com
a large building with Driehaus Museum in the background: Portland City Hall © Michelle Brence | The Oregonian/OregonLive/Michelle Brence/Staff (file)/oregonlive.com/TNS Portland City Hall

More financial aid for renters, businesses, and Multnomah County’s public health and homeless services are among the city of Portland’s plans to spend its $114 million in federal coronavirus aid.

The City Council discussed the plan Wednesday, a week ahead of voting where CARES Act dollars will be spent. If approved next Wednesday, the funds would begin to be distributed to the public in August, Mayor Ted Wheeler said.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan:

1/4 u00b7 $20.4 million to provide households help accessing meals, groceries and gift cards.

1/4 u00b7 $20 million to aid Multnomah County’s COVID-19 response.

1/4 u00b7 $19.1 million to fund the city and county’s homeless-related services, including shelters at city-run community centers and city-sanctioned outdoor camp sites.

1/4 u00b7 $17 million for rent assistance, mortgage counseling to help people avoid foreclosure and mortgage assistance for residents who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color.

1/4 u00b7 $15 million for small businesses relief funds and block grants and aid to mass gathering venues and businesses not slated to resume operations until phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, such as concert halls and sport venues.

1/4 u00b7 $9.1 million for the city’s COVID-19 response, such as cleaning and disinfecting supplies and personal protective equipment for city first responders.

1/4 u00b7 $5 million for public health expenses of the other five cities in Multnomah County — Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village and Maywood Park.

1/4 u00b7 $4.4 million for arts and culture programs, including grants for artists who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color and financial aid to the five arts venues including the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall known as Portland'5 and other nonprofits.

1/4 u00b7 $3.5 million for families without internet access or a computer. The plan calls for distributing 5,000 technology kits with a Chromebook laptop and vouchers for Internet service.

1/4 u00b7 $550,000 for a public health outreach campaign focused on the transit system and public right of way.

Money dedicated to household and business relief programs will prioritize Black, Indigenous and other people of color owned people and businesses, as well as members of the homeless population and people with disabilities, city officials said. Under the proposed plan, the city council will delegate authority to issue contracts and agreements to five bureau directors.

The city said its due to wanting to disburse relief funds quickly.

Oregon received $1.6 billion in local government relief as part of the $2 trillion federal CARES Act. In addition to the $114 million for Portland, Washington County received $105 million, Multnomah County received $28 million and the remaining $1.39 billion went to the state to distribute to other jurisdictions.

Oregon lawmakers voted Tuesday to distribute more than $200 million in federal aid the state received to unemployed workers, arts groups and venues, workers who need to take time off because they have COVID-19 and small businesses, with specific allocations earmarked for those owned by Black people.

During the Portland meeting, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she would vote against the city’s spending plan if it went unchanged. She expressed concerns throughout the presentation that the city wasn’t doing enough to get resources to residents of color not already connected into a city-approved network of community groups. She also said the $19.1 million for homelessness services should be used to create more space for those who’ve remained unhoused as well as increase protections for those already in shelters, but it appeared the money would be geared only toward the latter.

“My priority continues to be people, and what I know is the economic devastation headed our way is not like anything we’ve seen before,” Hardesty said. “These CARES Act dollars are to address, right now, the needs of our community and in my view, many of the allocations do not do that.”

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said she supports the plan because the aid it provides to arts and culture nonprofits, privately-owned venues and small businesses would help keep people employed and help them pay rent. She said while she believes it’ll be up to the state and federal government to come up with solutions to prevent “a tidal wave of evictions and foreclosures,” the city should consider funding residents’ legal defenses to prevent local evictions after the statewide eviction moratorium ends Sept. 30.

“These $114 million are a pittance,” Eudaly said. “They will make very little difference, even if we devoted every single dollar to direct relief to households and for rent assistance because the need is so much greater than $114 million.”

Wheeler said he also supports the spending plan, saying “reasonable people can disagree on whether this is exactly the right allocation.”

He cited the $37.4 million in rental and housing assistance as a highlight and noted that local residents would also be able to get aid from state funds. He said the $20 million the city plans to give the county would help meet Gov. Kate Brown’s requirements to keep the county’s economy open.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said some of the city’s federal funds would go toward helping homeless people in shelters isolate. Eighteen of the more than 3,000 people in the county with confirmed cases of COVID-19 indicated they were homeless, she said.

Kafoury said she agreed with Hardesty’s concerns that more needs to be done for people living on the streets, but she said the goal of the $19 million in this “first step” was to provide isolation space, such as in motels, for people currently in the shelter system who are at high-risk for contracting COVID-19 and being hospitalized. The longer they stay in shelters, Kafoury said, the more vulnerable they are to catch the disease and pass it on to people around them.

“The optics of this may be troubling, but I want you to know that there is no way that we are going to stop here,” Kafoury said. “This is not just a one shot and we’re done.”

Around 30 people gave public testimony about the spending plan, most expressing support for the arts allocations.

Robyn Williams, executive director for the Portland'5 Centers for the Arts, which operates city-owned theaters, said they haven’t had shows since March, laid off 90% of their staff and anticipate exhausting all of their funding by Oct. 1.

“We can be a key component in helping Portland recover after the pandemic,” she said. “It’s going to need us to be available and for venues to be functional so that we can continue to be the economic catalyst that our people and businesses rely on us for.”

-- Everton Bailey Jr; ebailey@oregonian.com 5/8 503-221-8343 5/8 @EvertonBailey

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