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Lisa Loving of The Skanner News
Published: 23 May 2012

Portland housing advocates are crossing their fingers in hopes City Commissioner Nick Fish, whose portfolio includes the Portland Housing Bureau, can fill a $700,000 city budget gap that would eliminate funding for homeownership, foreclosure prevention and other services to low-income households and communities of color.

The proposed budget cuts impact homebuyer services, credit clean-up programs and foreclosure prevention services offered by the African American Alliance for Homeownership, the Native American Youth and Family Center, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives Inc., Proud Ground, and the Portland Housing Center.

In a sense, these are programs funded by the city that help mitigate the impacts of gentrification; nevertheless within the coming year's budget, the Office of Management and Finance recommended they be eliminated completely.

And as far as the budget process is moving at this point – they are.

"What we heard from Nick Fish is that they're really trying to bridge that gap – they're trying to find the money," said Jen Matheson, a housing program outreach specialist at the NAYA Family Center.

"What's unfortunate is that the way the General Fund budget is configured, that recommendation about not funding homeownership got carried through to the Mayor's budget," she said.

"We're in a holding pattern, but we feel hopeful that Nick is our champion and will find a way to fund our programs."

Fish said Tuesday morning that he and his staff have had a plan throughout the budget process for filling in the holes on homeownership and that he's confident that will happen.

Part of a proposed $4.8 million budget for "housing safety net" programs and services overall, the cuts came in Mayor Sam Adams "Proposed Budget," released last week.

But the way the budget process works involves a level of give-and-take, Fish says, and he and his staff are waiting for a look at the mayor's "Revised Proposed" Budget, due out later this week, to see the status of the shortfall.

"We originally made a request for $4.8 million, which we say funds the safety net," Fish said. "So that covers the homeownership programs, foreclosure prevention, emergency shelters, homeless street outreach, short term rent assistance, and a number of other tools. "The strategy was to get the biggest amount of money we could get in the mayor's budget and then close the gap," he said.

According to Fish, as each bureau was asked by Adams to suggest a range of program reductions – assuming budget cuts of 4, 6, and 8 percent – the mayor's move to bail out Portland Public Schools with $7 million earlier this month "created a slightly bigger hole."

"So we have essentially three bites at the apple," Fish said. "The goal was to get the biggest possible number in the 'Mayor's Proposed,' and I believe his $4.1 million number in a tough budget year was a strong number.

"Our current strategy is to find the additional $700,000 and include that in the mayor's 'Revised Proposed,' and if we are still not able to close the gap, I will bring an amendment on the floor on May 30 to get to $4.8 million.

"My initial sense is that there is broad support in the building for this," Fish said.

"The mayor is to be applauded for a fourth straight year where he has funded safety net programs," Fish said. "My job is just to close the gap."

Matheson and Fish both praised the grassroots campaign by a wide spectrum of housing advocates to present a united front for funding in this budget cycle.

The groups' campaign made a visible splash on Facebook, where supporters were encouraged to take a photo of themselves holding up the same sign, which reads: "I Support the Portland Safety Net," and then post it to Facebook

"And so what's been great about that campaign is that all the different housing advocates are coming out with the same message which is -- support the safety net," Matheson said.

"So you have shelter folks coming out and saying, support homeownership. You have rent assistance folks saying, support foreclosure prevention, and vice versa."

"We've heard from all of our partners over the last month as part of the Safety Net Coalition," Fish said.

"They've been enormously effective in meeting with the mayor and my colleagues, sending messages, appearing at budget forums and in council presentations.

"If we get to $4.8 million, and I am confident that we will do so, it will be in part a function of a very successful campaign that the advocacy community has led," Fish said. "And this will be the fourth year that my partners have I think very successfully made the argument for investing in safety net programs."

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