Affordable housing could be new Metro focus
The Metro Council is poised to ask voters to approve the greatest increase in the regional government's authority in decades.
Six of the seven elected council members have signaled support for referring a $652.8 million affordable housing bond to the November 2108 ballot this Thursday, June 7. The proposed measure says passage will create a new affordable housing function for Metro. The funds would be distributed to cities and county housing authorities.
The amount is significantly more than all Metro ballot measures approved since 1995 combined — including the 2008 Oregon Zoo renovation bond, three natural area acquisition bonds and two natural area maintenance levies. It also is more than twice as much as the $258 million affordable housing bond approved by Portland voters in November 2016, the only other such measure ever referred to voters in the region.
During a May 29 council work session on the measure, Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett said she wasn't even convinced affordable housing was in the government's "wheelhouse" a year ago. But, Bennett said, Metro-commissioned polls and conversations with others in the Portland area convinced her that the affordable housing crisis is a regional issue demanding Metro's leadership.
"Housing price increases have been exceptional historically, and the situation is even worse if you're a person of color," Bennett said when she presented a framework for the November measure that would preserve or create up to 3,900 units of affordable housing in the urbanized areas of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.
Praising the framework were Metro President Tom Hughes and councilors Sam Chase, Shirley Craddick, Bob Stacey, Craig Dirksen and Betty Dominguez. Only Councilor Kathryn Harrington said she might vote no because the proposed ballot title and supporting documents are not detailed enough.
Hughes and Chase are so confident the council will refer the measure to the ballot, they and others already have retained political consultant Kevin Looper to manage the campaign and have asked Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish to serve on the political action committee that will support the measure.
Complicating matters is an existing restriction in the Oregon Constitution that prohibits governments from partnering with private businesses on projects funded by such bonds. It prevents the traditional method of building affordable housing, where governments only fund a portion of the projects. That is why Portland only promised to preserve or build 1,300 units with the $258.4 million affordable housing bond that city voters approved in November 2016.
The 2018 Oregon Legislature recognized the problem and placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot to repeal the restriction for affordable housing projects. Voters won't know whether it will apply to the potential Metro measure before the election, however, because they will both be on the same ballot.
If the amendment passes, Metro estimates the bond will preserve or create 3,900 affordable housing units. If it fails, the number drops to 2,400. Both are just a fraction of the 48,000 affordable units Metro says the region needs, however.
Passage of the constitutional amendment also would allow Portland to increase the number of units to be preserved or built by its affordable housing bond.
Opinions split over measure
Affordable housing and social justice advocates are expected to support the measure at Thursday's hearing. It will be opposed by John Charles, president and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, a free market think tank. He calls it an example of "mission creep," and an expensive and inefficient way to build affordable housing.
Other elected officials in the region are split over the measure. Most of those covered and surveyed by the Pamplin Media Group support it, including Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, the Clackamas County Commission, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle and Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp.
Some oppose it, however, including Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker and a majority of the Fairview City Council.
And still others are waiting to see the final version before making up their minds, including Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden, Fairview Mayor Ted Tosterud, Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, Gladstone Mayor Tammy Stempel and Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
Those who support the measure agree with Bennett that the affordable housing crisis is so unprecedented and severe, Metro must help address it. The Clackamas County Commission even endorsed it on April 10, before the $652.8 million figure was proposed and the framework was finalized.
"We are pleased to join with Metro in pursuit of a successful housing bond in 2018 that will significantly enhance our effort to support affordable housing for our residents," reads the letter signed by all five commission members.
Those opposed to it have several objections, including increasing property taxes to pay for affordable housing. Metro says the average homeowner will pay $60 a year for the life of the bond, more if the property is valued above a $240,000.
And those who are undecided also have concerns, including how the bond's passage might affect future funding measures. Metro has already said it will ask voters to approve a regional transportation funding measure to help finance the new MAX line proposed for the Southwest Corridor between Portland and Tualatin through Tigard in November 2020.
"Local governments have their own funding issues. Tualatin voters just passed a local transportation bond. Tigard just voted on a local operating levy, the schools and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue continue to fund local option levies. There is a tipping point beyond which voters are unable and/or unwilling to pay," Ogden said.
Metro affordable housing bond framework for November ballot
The Metro Council will consider the following framework for a November 2018 affordable housing bond on Thursday, June 7:
General election: November 2018
Amount: $652.8 million general obligation bond
Cost: $60 a year for average $240,000 home
Units to be preserved or built: 2,400
Units if Oregon constitutional amendment passes: 3,900
County housing percentages (based on assessed values): Multnomah, 45 percent; Washington, 34 percent; Clackamas, 21 percent
Household affordability targets: 42 percent at 30 percent area median incomes (AMI); 48 percent at 60 percent AMI; 10 percent at 80 percent AMI
Average per-unit costs: New construction, $253,186; preservation/renovation, $225,180
Other costs: Administration, up to 7 percent; land acquisition, up to 10 percent
Potential project partners: Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Portland, Clackamas Department of Health and Human Services and Housing; Washington Department of Housing Services; Home Forward; Housing Authority of Clackamas County; Housing Authority of Washington County
Previous Metro measures: 1995 natural area acquisitions, $136 million; 2006 natural area acquisitions, $227 million; 2008 Oregon Zoo renovations, $125 million; 2013 natural area maintenance, $10 million; 2016 natural area maintenance, $10 million