Board divided on regional housing bond
Washington County commissioners offered mixed reactions to a regional bond measure for housing that the Metro Council is considering for the Nov. 6 general election.
All five commissioners say they recognize a need for action. But after a briefing by Metro staffers on Tuesday, Jan. 16, they also said Metro has not yet specified how bond proceeds would be spent or how much cities and counties would get.
"No proportions are determined at this point," said Metro's Jessica Larson.
Andy Shaw, Metro's director of government affairs, said stakeholder and technical assistance committees will be formed soon to deal with those and other questions.
The Metro Council will have to decide by June whether to qualify a bond measure for a November vote in the three counties.
"This is short on details, and you have a short timeline," Commissioner Greg Malinowski said.
At one end was Board Chairman Andy Duyck, who said, "It's no secret I'm not a big fan" of regional action.
Duyck said he felt funding requests should have arisen from counties and cities — although not housing authorities, which are separate agencies — and not have to await Metro distributing money from a central fund.
Duyck had supported a countywide levy, part of which would have offset systems development charges for nonprofit agencies and others to build partially subsidized housing in partnership with the county. But the idea was shelved after a public opinion survey found only 52 percent support for it.
At the other end was Malinowski, who said, "We believe we're quite short … I appreciate you filling the gap."
He referred to statistics provided by Metro's Emily Lieb that Washington County was 4,700 homes short of what is needed by households earning less than 30 percent of median family income, and 4,500 homes short of what is needed by households earning between 30 and 50 percent of median family income. (In 2017, 100 percent of median family income for a four-person family in Washington County was just short of $75,000.)
Those numbers are short of the 14,000 estimated in a 2016 study commissioned by Washington County and its separate housing authority, and conducted by Portland State University.
Malinowski has said he thinks the real figure is much higher,
But he also says construction of more multiple-family housing is not the sole answer, and that current single-family housing is too costly.
Lieb said rents in the Beaverton-Aloha area jumped by 28 percent between 2011 and 2015, and in Hillsboro-Forest Grove, by 34 percent.
Five cities — Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood and Wilsonville — plan to seek Metro approval to expand their urban growth boundaries. "Perhaps it should be tied to housing," Malinowski said.
The other commissioners had in-between views.
"We have to get going on this," Commissioner Dick Schouten said. "This may be a train that may be worth riding."
Commissioner Roy Rogers said he was concerned that the focus would be only on increasing low-income housing, and not on moderating the rising costs of all housing.
"Somehow we have to make all boats rise," he said. "I don't want to see class warfare."
Commissioner Bob Terry said he was concerned about building large projects for low-income people that might meet the same fate as a couple of notorious public housing complexes in the Midwest. Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis — Terry came to Washington County from Missouri in 1996 — was finally demolished in 1976, and Cabrini-Green in Chicago in 2011.
"We have to do something, no question about it, but we have not addressed that issue," he said.
Metro's Andy Shaw said everyone will have to enlist in the effort to increase housing at all levels.
In addition to the counties — each has a separate housing authority — Portland, Gresham, Hillsboro and Beaverton are large enough to administer federal community development block grants that go to housing and related public improvements.
Even if all governments join the effort, Shaw said, "we'd still be whittling away at the problem."