Endorsement: Curse the darkness, or light a candle
Editor's note: This endorsement is part of an ongoing series of editorials in advance of the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. Also in this Oct. 3, 2018, issue, a second endorsement editorial recommends voters elect Kathryn Harrington as Washington County Board of Commissioners chairwoman. Our endorsement editorial in the previous issue on Sept. 26, 2018, recommended voters reject Ballot Measures 103 and 104. Our Sept. 19, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measure 105. Our Sept. 12, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters approve Ballot Measure 102.
We've wrestled a lot with Ballot Measure 26-199, Metro's regional affordable housing bond. We think a lot of people have, honestly — ordinary voters, business-owners and elected officials alike.
The Metro Council referred Measure 26-199 to the ballot in the hopes that a majority of regional voters will support a $653 million general obligation bond to buy, renovate and build affordable housing for up to 12,000 people in the tri-county area. It would provide homes for people making 80 percent or less of the median income, which is about $5,427 for a family of four.
It's a novel approach. Metro's primary role in the greater Portland area is to manage the urban growth boundary, although it also has an active role in transportation planning, management of natural areas and regional draws, including the Oregon Zoo and the Convention Center. It has never before been — and supporters of the bond measure argue it still won't be — a housing authority.
The way the measure is structured means the money raised by the bond issue will be split fairly — even its opponents concede that — and three county housing agencies would be heavily involved in deciding what gets purchased and built. But Metro, which has little experience with housing, would take on a big, new role on a project with lots of moving pieces on a proposal that received fairly little public debate.
That's not the least among the questions that Measure 26-199 raises. We are not convinced that the affordable housing it creates will be distributed equitably, since Metro can't actually compel local governments to approve housing projects in their communities, and there are no guarantees that every dollar will be stretched until it squeaks in order to maximize the amount, and quality, of housing that is built.
We're supporting the measure anyway.
Yes, there are questions. And yes, passing the measure does mean that area residents who live inside the urban growth boundary will see their property taxes go up. But because the cost of the bond measure is spread out across the entire Metro region — from Forest Grove east to Troutdale, from North Portland south to Wilsonville — the impact on taxpayers will be limited to about $5 per month, based on a $250,000 assessed value for a typical homeowner. For one fewer stop at Dutch Bros. every four and a half weeks, the typical homeowner can do their part to help address one of the biggest, most gut-wrenching problems facing our region.
We're supporting Measure 26-199, and asking our readers to support it as well, because the fact of the matter is that this is a desperate need. Rents have skyrocketed across the region. Real estate prices have gone up, up, up. The cost of living in the Portland area, even as far out as Forest Grove, has gone up while wages have stayed mostly flat.
The status quo is not working.
The "free market" is not supplying enough affordable rental units in the region. Yes, there are a lot of buildings going up in Hillsboro, Beaverton, Portland and across the area, but few of them are offered below market rates. The federal government, which used to provide incentives and even direct funding for low-income housing, has pulled back dramatically from that role. Local governments have been unable to bridge that funding gap. And public opinion polls show that residents are tired of seeing fellow Oregonians living in tents and sleeping on sidewalks. They want their local governments to do something bold to allow the working poor to have homes.
Measure 26-199 isn't a perfect solution, and it's not a complete solution. But it's the start of a solution — perhaps a fitful start, perhaps a start that accomplishes less than its supporters, including us, would like it to.
Ballot Measure 102, amending the state constitution to legalize public-private partnerships on housing projects, goes hand-in-glove with Measure 26-199. If it passes, then Measure 26-199 could lead to the construction of as many as 3,900 housing units for low-income families and individuals, distributed more or less evenly across Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties.
It's not enough. It might never be enough. But that's up to 3,900 more roofs over the heads of residents who simply can't afford housing, an essential human need. That's up to 12,000 people sleeping in their own beds instead of in a shelter, on a friend's couch, in their car or on the street. And that's all for the price of 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value from those of us who already own property.
We understand why many people will vote "no" on Measure 26-199. It doesn't make them heartless, and it doesn't mean they're ignorant. Some of our own sister newspapers within Pamplin Media Group have come out against Measure 26-199 for one reason or another. There is a lot of uncertainty, more than we'd like, about the efficacy of this measure, and it's true that some households can more easily shoulder a bump in their property taxes than others.
But we hope you'll join us in voting "yes" — because it's time to stop collectively wringing our hands about the lack of affordable housing in Washington County and do something about it, because our economy depends on a working class that needs to be able to fulfill their most basic needs, and because, in the end, this is something we can do that will help in some way, and this situation is too urgent to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
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