A new Clatsop County fund to help the homeless is on hold.
County commissioners, in a 2-2 vote Wednesday, did not approve the suggested sale of a 14-acre parcel in Hammond acquired by the county in 1926 via tax foreclosure. County management estimates the land could sell for more than $500,000 due to development in the area, and about 12 percent of the proceeds could have been used to create the homelessness fund.
“Currently financial resources are lacking to address either short or long-term strategies to reduce homelessness,” County Manager Cameron Moore wrote in an agenda item summary presented to commissioners. “Clatsop County has an obligation to support and assist in addressing community needs such as homelessness with whatever resources we can make available.”
As an example of what could come from the fund, Moore listed an effort by nonprofit Helping Hands to remodel a boarding house in Uniontown into a dormitory for 50 to 75 homeless people. The county was considering pitching in for some of the $350,000 project.
Moore first thought of the idea for a fund during a meeting about homelessness with law enforcement officials and Helping Hands late last year, he said.
“I guess I was struck when I was sitting there when I realized that even for some of the simple things that people are trying to do, they lack the financial resources,” Moore said.
Commissioners Scott Lee and Sarah Nebeker, who voted in favor of the proposal, argued it would set a precedent for one way to tackle the county’s nagging homelessness issue.
“I think it’s a great idea. Commissioners have been talking for such a long time about, ‘What can we do about homelessness?’ and we go around and around,” Nebeker said. “It shows that the county is looking at this issue. We are not ignoring it. We are supporting it and trying to move forward.”
Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan said she had several concerns, though the proposal was not a bad idea. Among them were the lack of specifics about the fund, along with her view that a decision should be delayed until a $100,000 countywide housing study is completed.
“We’re not going to be making more land. I would like to see us imagine a little bit further. Perhaps, maybe, table this so we can discuss it and look at it more,” Sullivan said.
“I would like to take more time to look at this issue. I don’t think we’re going to be penalized by taking a little more time to look at it.”
Sullivan voted against the proposal along with Commissioner Lianne Thompson, who said the decision of what to do with the surplus land is “a good problem to have.”
“I’d like to have us take a fuller look, a deeper look, because the first impulse is to say, ‘Yeah, let’s do that,’” Thompson said. “On the other hand, if we step back and consider, we might get better benefit.”
But the county housing study will not be completed for at least another six months, Moore said.
“I’m guessing there are people out on the street that think time would mean an awful, awful lot,” Moore said. “We certainly could wait, but, I mean, I think there are people that probably would say, ‘Hey, you could help me now. Why didn’t you do it?’”
The fund is the latest idea the county has proposed to tackle homelessness and low-income housing woes.
Last year, the county — based originally on an idea pitched by Sullivan— donated a dilapidated Alderbrook home to Community Action Team and Clatsop Community Action, two nonprofits that help low-income residents. Rather than the county placing the foreclosed property up for auction, the nonprofits instead cleared the massive amounts of debris in the home with the intention of selling it and using the proceeds to build low-income housing units in the future.
“I am really puzzled since both Commissioner Thompson and Commissioner Sullivan have been very vocal about homelessness,” Nebeker said Wednesday. “Here’s an opportunity that’s been brought to us through thoughtful consideration and yet, we’re walking away.”
The county’s involvement in the homelessness issue would be coming at the right time, said Alan Evans, Helping Hands’ executive director.
“I think the buy-in from the county is good to tackle one of the biggest problems we face today,” Evans said. “I think everybody is noticing the shift that’s happening with a lack of affordable housing. We’re offering jobs on the coast out here, but people need a place to live.”
While it’s unclear how much the homelessness fund would expand, foreclosed property sales would likely be the primary source of its growth.
“It’s a great thing, and I think its a model for other communities,” Evans said.
Commissioner Lisa Clement was absent from the meeting and unable to cast the tie-breaking vote Wednesday.
Because the proposal did not receive a majority, it is tabled indefinitely. But Lee, the board’s chairman, said it will be placed on a meeting agenda again soon.
“This will come up again,” Lee said after the meeting, “and next time we’ll have the votes.”