Valfre: Ballot initiatives to benefit vulnerable citizens
I recently had the opportunity to attend the League of Oregon Cities Conference in Eugene, where I listened intently to the aspirations and challenges of our sister cities across the state. While several topics were recurring priorities, such as economic development, Oregon's complex tax structure, PERS reform and infrastructure capital investments — one topic, affordable housing, consistently rose to the forefront in our conversations and work sessions.
All localities — urban and rural, large and small, Oregon coastal, metro or frontier — are facing challenges in developing and preserving housing for their essential workforce, as well as providing safe dwellings for veterans, seniors, persons with disabilities and families with children.
In Forest Grove, our citizens are particularly challenged by this affordable housing shortfall, as over 33 percent of our city's citizens are severely rent-burdened, paying over 50 percent of their incomes for rent or mortgage — the highest city percentage in Washington County. Without action to increase availability of affordable housing, this situation will worsen, as median earnings for Forest Grove residents have increased just 7 percent since 2010, while median rents have increased 12 percent — further straining household budgets. For persons on fixed incomes, young Millennials entering the workforce, and families working two or more minimum wage jobs, this leaves very little margin to purchase necessities like food and medicine — increasing the risk of one becoming homeless should a medical emergency, unanticipated repair or rent increase occur.
We do have a unique opportunity this November to make a positive change in restoring housing stability to countless folks in our community and region who are struggling to make ends meet each day. Measure 26-199 is an affordable housing bond that will create thousands of housing units across our metro area region. With over 100 students in our Forest Grove schools who are either homeless, couch-surfing or living in shelters, the estimated cost of $60 a year to give families and these kids the essential housing stability to study and prosper seems like a compelling investment.
An equally important ballot initiative is Measure 102. It is an easy, straightforward fix to Oregon law that will strengthen the ability of local non-profits, private organizations and our local governments to work together to solve the housing crisis here in Oregon.
This measure will make a change to our state's constitution to allow funds raised through affordable housing bonds to be used alongside private and nonprofit investment, resources and expertise. The Oregon Legislature referred this measure to the ballot with strong bipartisan support and, with no cost to voters, this measure is just good common sense.
Together, Measure 26-199 and Measure 102 will enable our region to house up to 12,000 people. Some of this housing will give new hope and stability to our most vulnerable citizens and children living in Forest Grove. This isn't just an economic issue, it is a moral one that will have lasting generational impact. Please vote "yes" on Measure 26-199 and Measure 102.
Val Valfre is a Forest Grove city councilor and former housing director of Washington County. He oversaw the creation of affordable housing and administration of the county's 10-year plan to end homelessness.
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