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Affordable housing bond makes good business sense

Jim Mark

For the last two years, a primary conversation among Alliance directors has been the persistent and pervasive housing affordability and homelessness crises facing our community.

Housing and homelessness are two very different issues, but they are also linked, as we know that a good number of people living on our streets or couch surfing with friends are there because they were unable to find an affordable place of their own. We need more housing units, especially for our lowest-income neighbors who face long waiting lists at Portland’s low-income housing developments because of a persistent lack of inventory.

It was that reality that drove the Portland Business Alliance board of directors earlier this month to endorse Ballot Measure 26-179, the City of Portland’s proposed affordable housing bond. The measure would authorize the city to issue up to $258 million in general obligation bonds, with the proceeds to be used to build new housing and purchase and rehabilitate existing housing for some of our most vulnerable residents. The city estimates that it will be able to develop or preserve some 1,300 affordable units over the next 20 years with the bond proceeds, creating homes for 2,900 low-income individuals.

The Alliance looks carefully at new tax proposals. Our test for support is straightforward: Does the tax address a clear community need? Is it fair and reasonable? And is it clear how the money will be spent. For this measure, the answer to all three questions was yes.

For the last couple of decades, city revenues for affordable housing stock have come primarily out of urban renewal areas, some of which are phasing out. Progress has been made, but a reliance on that tool has forced much of the affordable housing development into just a few areas of town. The bond revenue will have no such geographic restrictions, giving city planners more leeway to find a broad array of workable locations.

The bond will cost property owners in the city about 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Business and residential property owners will share this burden of providing more access to housing for families and individuals in need. The housing will be restricted to renters earning less than 60 percent of median family income, which is about $43,980 for a family of four. Many units will be set aside for even lower-earning individuals and families.

This is a bold new undertaking for city of Portland leaders; as business leaders we want to assist them so that the number of units they can get with the bond investments is maximized given the existing shortage of housing. Private sector expertise in constructing and managing large scale housing developments should be brought to the table. Buildings should be well constructed and efficient, but to optimize construction and drive down per unit costs we must take a hard look at the city’s own requirements and codes that add unnecessary expense to housing development, including those related to construction, permitting and design. Every effort should be made to uphold the central goal of providing as many quality units as possible to address the housing shortage that has become a crisis in our community.

The Alliance also has called on the city to look at ways to create a revenue stream to recapitalize the affordable housing fund to expand investments and to ensure there is an adequate maintenance fund for the newly built or acquired housing units. Time and again, we have seen what happens when public owners fail to maintain assets, and we have seen that a lack of maintenance investments, as they are needed, ultimately costs more down the line.

Measure 26-179 adds to the tools available to address Portland’s housing and homeless issue, particularly for our city’s lowest-income residents. But a shortage of housing also exists for middle-income workers, and we need more housing development across the board to meet the demand in our growing city. There is no silver bullet for solving the problem all at once, but if we work together as a community we can address the need.

Please join me and the Portland Business Alliance board of directors in supporting Measure 26-179, the affordable housing bond, an important part of our effort to add more housing to our community.


Jim Mark is CEO of Melvin Mark Companies and is chair-elect of the Portland Business Alliance board of directors. Send feedback to: [email protected]com


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