The Brain Trust of Portland’s Subsidized Housing Is Seeing a Lot of Turnover


The money is coming, but people are leaving.

Soon, Portland will have more cash than ever to tackle the homeless crisis. The Metro supportive housing services income tax, passed by voters in 2020, is funneling an expected $250 million each year among Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties.

But the people in charge of spending that money are leaving. No fewer than three top execs have resigned since February. Four, if you count the head of the state’s housing agency.

What’s going on? They all have their own reasons for departure. Elissa Gertler, planning director at Metro, the tri-county government that administers the supportive housing services measure, is moving to Astoria. She’s staying in the game, though, running the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority.

Many agencies weren’t prepared for the typhoon of cash, Gertler says. They had to build the infrastructure and systems to spend it promptly and wisely.

“The region has pumped an unprecedented amount of resources into affordable housing,” Gertler says. “Every single one of our agencies has had to level up. It’s exhausting.”

Case in point: The Joint Office of Homeless Services, the city-county partnership, proposed a budget of $256 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023, up from $150 million the previous year.

For her part, Shannon Callahan, director of the Portland Housing Bureau, says she’s staying on the job.

“There are a number of great folks transitioning to new jobs and opportunities right now, including quite a few folks in the housing world locally,” Callahan said in an email. “I, however, am still at the Housing Bureau.”

Name: Elissa Gertler

Job title: Planning and development director, Metro

Scope of duties: Managed urban growth boundary, oversaw regional transportation planning and funding, managed aspects of the Metro supportive housing services measure.

Last day: July 1, 2022

Years at the agency: 11

Why she left: To run the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, which provides safe, affordable housing in Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook counties, and to live in Astoria.

Name: Michael Buonocore

Job title: Executive director, Home Forward

Scope of duties: Ran Portland’s housing authority, the largest provider of affordable housing in Oregon, with 6,700 apartments in its portfolio.

Last day: February 2022

Years at the agency: 20

Why he left: To podcast and write a book. Buonocore’s podcast is called The First Michael, and he’s appeared on The Moth storytelling show.

Name: Marc Jolin

Job title: Director, Joint Office of Homeless Services

Scope of duties: JOHS provides shelter beds, permanent housing, and mental health counseling.

Last day: March 1, 2022

Years at the agency: 7

Why he left: No reason given.

Name: Margaret Salazar

Job title: Director, Oregon Housing and Community Services

Scope of duties: OHCS provides stable, affordable housing statewide.

Last day: February 2022

Years at the agency: 5

Why she left: To become a regional administrator at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

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