When Oregonians receive their voters' pamphlets a month from now, they will find it filled with contests featuring candidates offering extremely different visions about where their state, counties and communities should be going. They will see competing arguments on state and local measures that would dictate how we deal with immigrants and raise fees. They'll wade through debates about how their local governments should move forward on a variety of topics, from how they finance their elections and run their meetings to how they pay for teachers and keep their fire trucks running.
For many voters, those will be tough choices.
But the first statewide measure they see on their ballot should not be difficult at all.
Ballot Measure 102 cleans up archaic language in the Oregon Constitution and could help address a problem facing virtually every Oregon community: a lack of affordable housing. It does so by allowing local governments to use general obligation bonds in partnership with private developers to build or refurbish affordable housing.
There are countless examples across the state where nonprofit and for-profit organizations have been able to build quality affordable housing for far less than a government entity can. That's due to a lot reasons, including the fact that their costs may be lower and they have more construction experience.
But under current law, local governments can't have these partnerships if they are using general obligation bond money — such as the funds approved by Portland voters in 2016, or the ones proposed by the Metro regional government this year.
That's because Oregon's current constitution, adopted in 1859, included a provision prohibiting cities, counties and other local public bodies from "raising money" for any "joint company, corporation or association."
Most lawyers have interpreted that ban, which was aimed at preventing corruption and risky investments with taxpayer money, as precluding local governments from owning and maintaining any housing projects financed with money raised from general obligation bonds.
The issue came to light two years ago when voters in Portland passed a $258 million affordable housing bond. Under the current law, which requires the city to own the properties it builds or buys, that money is expected to finance 1,300 units. If the city could have partnered on projects, those dollars would have gone a lot further and provided hundreds more dwellings.
Because the city bond project is still underway, should Measure 102 pass, the remaining dollars still could be stretched to boost the number of units.
A "yes" vote in November could have an even bigger impact on an affordable housing measure proposed by Metro, the Portland area's regional government. The measure, also on the November ballot, would be able to finance 2,300 units under the current law, but an estimated 3,900 units if voters pass Measure 102.
Whether voters agree with the Metro bond measure or not, they should approve Measure 102. To do otherwise would be to lock in higher costs for all local governments any time they might want to approve bonds for housing projects.
We're not big on changing the state constitution willy-nilly, but in this case, an update is clearly in order. And the Oregon Legislature, which put Measure 102 on the ballot, agreed. The legislation passed unanimously in the state House and by a 24-5 vote in the state Senate. The change would only affect general obligation bonds sold for the purposes of building or preserving affordable housing. The other original safeguards would remain in place.
There's no organized opposition to the measure, which has been endorsed by a variety of local elected officials and organizations, including Sen. Chuck Riley of Hillsboro, Rep. Susan McLain of Forest Grove and Metro Councilor-elect Juan Carlos Gonzalez of Cornelius.
What's more, even Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck, the most vocal critic of Metro's bond measure, supports this proposal.
So do we.
This one's easy. Voters should support Measure 102 to give local governments a needed tool to help create and preserve affordable housing throughout the state. It costs nothing, and it just might do some real good.
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