Metro affordable housing bond debated in Hillsboro
Attendees at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum program in Hillsboro on Monday, Oct. 15, walked away from the event with arguments to consider on either side of a contested regional affordable housing bond measure on the ballot this fall.
Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck and Lynn Peterson, the regional government Metro's president-elect, made their pitches for "no" and "yes," respectively, at Coyote's Bar & Grill during the lunchtime program. The $652.8 million bond measure is one of the hottest tickets in the Nov. 6 election, with local leaders lining up on opposing sides. In Washington County, Duyck has been perhaps the most vocal opponent of the measure; Pete Truax of Forest Grove, among several other mayors in the county, is a vocal supporter.
Duyck and Peterson do agree on some things, including the basic premise of the problem: Portland and its suburbs do not have enough housing available for people earning significantly less than the median income in the area. They both support Ballot Measure 102, a relatively uncontroversial statewide measure that would allow more public-private housing partnerships in Oregon. They also both support relaxing system development charges, which builders must pay to local governments to compensate for the impact of their development on infrastructure like streets and utilities, at least to make the construction of "affordable housing" a more attractive prospect to developers.
"We disagree on how to solve the issues, but we agree what the problem is," Duyck said, succinctly.
Duyck argued both that Ballot Measure 26-199, the proposed Metro bond, does not go far enough in the housing it will fund and goes too far in asking property-owners to pay more in taxes.
"At best, it'll build about 3,900 homes across the Metro region — about 1,300 in Washington County. That's just a drop in the bucket," Duyck said, adding later, "In the end, it does harm to many people while helping few others."
Peterson characterized the bond measure as a necessary initial step toward addressing the affordable housing shortage, which Metro has estimated at about 40,000 across the region — more than 10 times the number of units Metro says Measure 26-399 would construct. The vast majority of bond funds would be distributed across housing authorities in the Portland area, including the three counties — Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas — for them to use for affordable housing as they see fit, Peterson noted.
Additional steps are needed even if voters do approve Measures 102 and 26-399 this fall, she said.
"While this doesn't solve the homelessness issue, it does make sure that we get 12,000 people into stable housing," said Peterson.
Duyck acknowledged that the tax increase from Measure 26-399 is, by itself, fairly small. The measure would increase property taxes by about 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $5 per month for a family in a home assessed at $250,000.
But, Duyck argued, voters can't look only at the increase from Measure 26-399. They should consider the "cumulative impact" of the proposed bond plus all of the other money measures that have been approved, which already increase the amount in taxes that property-owners pay, he noted. Duyck said raising taxes to address housing would set a "dangerous precedent" that could lead to further increases in the future.
"Why not double, triple it? Why not make it so that everybody has a house?" Duyck asked rhetorically of the bond measure.
Peterson contended that right now, the best thing for the Portland area's housing picture is to add more housing for people making up to 60 percent of area median income — and that kind of housing won't be built without subsidies because it is not profitable for private companies to build and operate, she said.
"The experts and those in the development industry have said this is the type of housing we need the most," Peterson said.
Duyck and Peterson have met for a series of forums to present their arguments on Measure 26-199, including an appearance on Oregon Public Broadcasting's popular radio show "Think Out Loud." They are not strangers, by any means — Peterson was Duyck's Clackamas County counterpart, serving as chairwoman of the county commission there from 2007 to 2011 — but their terms leading Washington County and Metro, respectively, won't overlap. Duyck is stepping down at the end of this year when his term expires, and Peterson will take office in January after winning election in May.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
Follow me on Twitter
Visit us on Facebook
Subscribe to our E-News