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A resolution of support for the affordable housing tax measure was voted down on a 2-2 deadlock.

STAFF PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Affordable housing, like the Elm Park Apartments in Forest Grove, is a priority for regional policymakers seeking to address rising living costs.In a divided vote, the Cornelius City Council opted not to adopt a resolution Monday evening, July 2, in support of the regional government Metro's affordable housing bond measure.

Metro, which manages urban growth and land use in the Portland area, is seeking voter approval for the $652.8 million, 30-year affordable housing bond this November. Both supporters and opponents are gearing up for a hard-fought campaign, as while opinion surveys indicate housing is among the top concerns of area residents, property tax increases tend to be a tough sell with voters.

The measure marks somewhat of a departure from Metro's usual role in government — it's perhaps best known for setting the limits of the urban growth boundary, managing natural areas like the Chehalem Ridge Nature Park south of Cornelius and operating the Oregon Zoo — prompted by the belief of many policymakers across Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties that affordable housing is an issue that requires a "regional approach."

Cornelius city staff recommended that the City Council support the bond, with City Manager Rob Drake making a case that the measure will give people who are struggling to afford housing "a step up and a hand up."

Council President Dave Schamp, presiding over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Jef Dalin, voted in favor of the resolution. But he stressed the gravity of the council weighing in on the measure, remarking, "I want to thoroughly understand the issue and what the expected outcome is going to be, and to project now some 30 years from when this passes. So we're encumbering homeowners that aren't even born yet, if you think about it. … That's a big step."

Councilor Harley Crowder also voted in favor of the resolution. Councilors Steve Heinrich and Jose Orozco voted against it. Without Dalin to cast a fifth vote, the motion to adopt the resolution failed on a 2-2 deadlock.

Metro estimates that the bond would raise property taxes for the average homeowner in the Portland area by about $60 per year, at a rate of 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

According to the regional government, passage of the bond measure could end up paying for enough housing to accommodate about 7,500 people in households earning 80 percent or less of area median income.

The Oregon Legislature has also referred a constitutional amendment to the November ballot that would effectively work in concert with the affordable housing bond if both pass, allowing Metro to partner with private developers on housing projects. If both the Metro bond and the statewide measure amending Oregon's constitution pass, Metro estimates, the bond could provide affordable housing for up to 12,000 people.

The council heard from Maria Caballero Rubio, executive director of Cornelius-based nonprofit group Centro Cultural de Washington County, and Nicole Stoenner, chief of staff to state Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, and also received a letter from Nathan Teske, executive director of Hillsboro-based affordable housing developer Bienestar Oregon. All urged support for the resolution backing the bond measure.

"I envision a city that not only cares about a beautiful downtown, but a city that provides its residents with quality, safe affordable housing," said Caballero Rubio, who serves on Metro's bond advisory committee and has been involved in early public outreach for Cornelius' town center planning project.

"Washington County has experienced unprecedented growth. With that growth has come skyrocketing rent and home prices," Stoenner said. "The Legislature has worked hard to address these issues, but we need leaders at every level to come and address this problem."

Members of the council did not discuss the resolution after hearing public testimony, proceeding directly to the motion and vote.

However, after the council meeting, several council members shared their thoughts with the News-Times.

"It's certainly a well-documented challenge, and while I have misgivings — you know, I don't think this is the perfect answer — it's an answer. It's a step toward improving the situation that we currently have," said Schamp of the bond measure.

He added, "I'm not satisfied with the status quo."

Orozco framed his decision to vote against the resolution as more philosophical than ideological.

"I think it's a little early for us to just make a statement of endorsement for, I would presume, the voter (pamphlet)," Orozco said. "And I think the voters should just decide on their own."

Heinrich opposes the bond measure.

"We just have to find a better option," he said, adding, "I think there's better answers."

Heinrich said he is concerned about the impact of a property tax increase on homeowners who may also be struggling with their bills.

"The reason I voted against (the resolution) was that I didn't think it was fair to the people that are paying taxes," Heinrich said. "There's a lot of people that own housing that are on very limited income, too. … I don't think we can handle it. (Property taxes are) high right now."

Heinrich also suggested that the issue partially owes to poor spending decisions on the part of some people who cannot afford housing.

"People can change their habits, too," Heinrich said. "I notice a lot of these homeless, they can always afford to smoke a $6 pack of cigarettes, and drink their wine and their beer. There's priorities."

It is unclear whether the council will reconsider the resolution when Dalin is present to give the body its full five members. Asked if that could happen, Schamp answered, "I think that's a possibility."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Cornelius City Council members after the Monday, July 2, meeting, as well as to clarify that the statewide measure is an amendment to Oregon's constitution.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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