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Metro's affordable housing bond will allocate about $116 million to the county

Affordable housing has been a hot button issue for a while now — it's nothing new. But during the Jan. 7 Lake Oswego City Council meeting, Clackamas County staff and Commissioner Martha Schrader gave the City an update on where the county stands in regards to the issue, and how the county plans to use Metro's housing bond funds.

Voters approved Metro's $652.8 million affordable housing bond in 2018 to create affordable homes for vulnerable populations across Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties.

Just over $116 million will be allocated toward Clackamas County, which will help create about 21% of homes needed in the county.

"We all know federal dollars are declining and we need to find local solutions if we want to solve the housing crisis that we're facing," said Schrader, adding that the county only has 41% of affordable housing homes needed to meet residents' needs.

During the meeting, Clackamas County Housing Authority Director of Housing Development Stephen McMurtrey announced the authority will release a notice of fund availability for the first phase of the bond funds by the end of January.

He said it will unlock $40 million that will be available to anyone in the county, within the urban growth boundary, with a viable project to move forward. He said along with that, up to 120 project-based vouchers or site-based rental assistance.

"We really want to encourage our developers to create opportunity for varied incomes," said McMurtrey, adding that they don't want to lose track of the people who need rental assistance within 0-30% of the area median income.

The county has seven years to commit the funds and staff said project readiness will be a huge focus.

"We are looking forward to seeing the first round of proposals and then prioritize projects that can be completed quickly and get them going on the ground," Schrader said.

The bond will cost Clackamas County homeowners about $60 per year for 30 years based on an assessed home value of $250,000.

At a minimum, the county's goal is to develop about 812 new units, make at least 406 units family size — two bedrooms or larger — develop at least 333 units for families who make 30% or less of the area median income and set aside 10% of resources for households who make between 61%-81% of the area median income.

"As housing costs continue to rise and income stays relatively flat, we see more and more pressure on that upper level," McMurtrey said.

Mayor Kent Studebaker said that the issue with housing is that land is expensive and asked if the county considered expanding the urban growth boundary.

Schrader said, from her perspective, that it's a conversation that needs to be unpacked and that Metro should take a close look at it because availability is a huge issue and land prices in the county can be prohibitive.

McMurtrey said high land cost is something they will need to pay attention to because the $116 million is also there to purchase new land to build on.

"We have the opportunity to get new units constructed in the marketplace or acquire buildings that may have been constructed and have yet to be leased up or are currently on what we will call 'natural occurring affordable housing,'" said McMurtrey, adding that 55% of bond resources are set aside for redevelopment of the Housing Authority's own affordable public housing portfolio.

Plastic bag ban

In 2019, the state passed House Bill 2509. The bill, which came into effect Jan. 1 of this year, requires retailers and restaurants to provide customers with reusable or recycled paper bags, and to charge a minimum of 5 cents per bag — though restaurants only need to require a fee if they are giving out a reusable bag, not a paper bag.

The City, which required a charge of 10 cents a bag for retailers larger than 10,000 square feet, passed an ordinance 4-3 during the Jan. 7 meeting that amends the verbiage to contain identical definitions, requirements and restrictions of HB 2509, but continues to charge 10 cents across the board to all retailers, regardless of size.

There was back and forth between councilors about whether to keep the bag fee at the required state level of 5 cents or to maintain 10 cents across the board.

Councilor Skip O' Neill said he would prefer keeping the bag fee at 10 cents because he thinks it changes behavior more than the lesser amount, and that the City should continue being leaders and keep it at 10 cents.

Jenny Slepian, Lake Oswego's sustainability and management analyst, said that Lake Oswego and Ashland are the only two cities she found in the state to require a 10 cent fee right now.

Councilor Jackie Manz agreed with O'Neill and said: "5 cents is not going to change behavior."

On the other hand, Councilor John Wendland said he doesn't like Lake Oswego's stigma of being expensive and being one of two cities in the state to charge a higher fee. Councilor Theresa Kohlhoff said she'd prefer to revert back to the state law so there would be no issues and people can live with uniformity.

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