Metro income tax to help homeless buoyed by 3 county chairs
Three county chairs representing the Portland area appeared shoulder to shoulder in support of the regional government's proposed income tax to fund supportive housing for the homeless.
The top leaders at Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties testified in favor of Metro's plan for a 1% or perhaps 2% income tax that is steaming toward voters' ballots in May.
"Just like there isn't one cause of homelessness, there isn't just one solution. And that's why this funding opportunity is so critical," said Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington. "As a region, we understand that this is just a first step."
Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard praised the fundraising mechanism — it likely would apply to individuals pulling in more than $125,000 per year, or couples earning $250,000 — saying a property tax would be too heavy a burden.
"The services that we need to provide to keep them in permanent housing, and move them into the job market, requires the investment that we need to make as a region," Bernard told the Metro Council on Thursday, Feb. 13.
The seven-person council is slaloming toward a vote to refer the ballot measure to voters on Feb. 20, a vastly expedited schedule considering that most money measures spend months or even years being tweaked by committees of stakeholders. Metro's 2018 housing bond, for instance, took 18 months to prepare.
"This is pretty fast moving," Bernard said, "but this is an emergency."
The coalition of business and nonprofit service providers supporting the homelessness measure is called HereTogether. Members say it was formed about a year and a half ago.
In her testimony, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said some 56,000 households here are at risk of becoming unhoused, despite the fact that some 12,000 are already living in supportive housing.
"We cannot allow homelessness to become normalized to the generations that follow us," Kafoury said. "Absolutely no one in our region should have to face the threat of homelessness as the penalty for unaffordable rents."
With just days to go before the ballot measure is finalized, exactly how much revenue will be raised is still an unfilled blank, though it's generally assumed to be around $250 million.
A new report suggests Metro can clear that margin with just a 1% income tax, which is also the most the regional government can implement under current law. But that would leave one fewer option on the table for Metro's looming transportation measure in November, which needs to draw in some $3 billion to $6 billion.
At the Oregon Legislature, House Speaker Tina Kotek has introduced House Bill 4164, authorizing Metro to collect income tax rates of up to 2%, but the money from the second percentage point must be used to combat homelessness, and no more than 5% of the revenue can be dedicated to administrative costs.
A public hearing on the legislation is set for Monday, Feb. 17, in the House revenue committee.
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