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Joe Keizur believes local governments drive up home costs and they can create more affordable homes without raising taxes.

CONTRIBUTED - Joe Keizur, founder of the Affordable Oregon advocacy group, has emerged as the most vocal opponent of the $625.8 million affordable housing bond Metro has referred to the November 2018 ballot. He believes local governments like Metro have helped create the affordable housing crisis.The most active opponent of Metro's affordable housing measure is a semi-retired former Hillsboro city councilor, who heads an advocacy organization that believes local governments are unnecessarily driving up home costs.

Joe Keizur, 42, also graduated from Aloha High School, where he was taught history by Tom Hughes, the president of the Metro Council that referred the $652.8 million bond to the November 2018 ballot.

"I love Tom. There's something wrong with anybody who doesn't like Tom," says Keizur, who nevertheless has attacked the measure as poorly thought out and too expensive, on the website operated by his organization, Affordable Oregon.

"At most, it will only produce 3,900 new units, and that's not enough to make a significant difference. Far more housing that's affordable can be produced if local governments will reduce their regulations, cut their costs and reform their bureaucracies," Keizur says.

Affordable housing advocates disagree. They crowded into the regional government's headquarters on June 7 to insist that the elected council refer the bond measure to the ballot. During the more than three-hour hearing, most witnesses insisted the affordable housing crisis is a regional issue that requires a regional answer.

Portland voters approved a $258.4 million affordable housing bond at the November 2016 general election. Advocates said Metro's measure will increase the number of projects in Portland and help build affordable housing in other parts of the tri-county region within Metro's jurisdiction.

Even before the unanimous council vote, Hughes co-founded Yes for Affordable Housing, a political action committee that will lead the campaign for the measure. He'll be joined by Metro President-elect Lynn Peterson, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland city Commissioner Nick Fish. Hughes also co-founded a second PAC, Affordable Housing for Oregon, to support a proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution on the November ballot that will loosen restrictions on bond-funded affordable housing projects. That will increase the potential number of units that could be created, from 2,400 to the 3,900 that Keizur says is still not many, considering the size of the measure.

The campaign kicked off June 21 with a press conference by supporters at the city-supported Portland Mercado food cart pod and gathering area at Southeast 72nd Avenue and Foster Road.

Anticipating the council vote, Keizur filed Affordable Housing for WHO?, a PAC to oppose the measure before it was officially placed on the ballot. The name is intended to mean that local governments should be working to reduce housing costs for everyone, not just lower-income residents who meet preset earning guidelines. Keizur says he expects to be heavily outspent by the measure's supporters, but is committed to making a fight of it.

"We'll raise as much as we can to get the message out," Keizur says.

Affordable housing advocates say that without public support, developers will never build housing for those most in need because it will not pay for itself, let alone generate a profit for them.

CONTRIBUTED: YES FOR AFFORABLE HOUSING - The campaign in support of Metro's affordable housing bond kicked off June 21 with a press conference by supporters at the city-supported Portland Mercado food cart pod and gathering area at Southeast 72nd Avenue and Foster Road.

Ranking the region

As proof of government's role in increasing housing costs, Keizur points to the Local Government Affordable Index, a recent report prepared by Affordable Oregon and posted on its website. The index attempts to compile and compare the additional costs created by cities and counties in the metropolitan region on the construction of new single-family homes.

"The members of Affordable Oregon feel it's time to rein in local government and expose its practices and their effect on affordability," the report reads. "While we believe that local governments can be an excellent partner and resource in the development of housing affordability, our current local regimes need to be held accountable for their actions."

Portland was the worst offender, the index says, adding $85,300 to the cost of a new home in the form of permits, fees, system development charges and interest payments due to delays. That's over $20,000 more than the $65,235 median for government-related expenses in the entire region, according to Affordable Oregon. It's also more than 20 percent of the typical $425,000 cost of a new home in Portland, according to the index.

"Portland is the single-worst place for a builder/developer to do business in the Portland metro area and it's not even close," the report says.

At the other end of the spectrum was Milwaukie, with $44,708 in additional government-related costs.

"It would make more sense at this point to shift major development in the south Portland area from Portland to Milwaukie if suitable land can be found to up-zone or build vertical housing," the report reads.

The Portland Bureau of Development Services, which issues building permits, declined to comment.

Keizur was not surprised by Portland's ranking because of the complaints he has heard about the city over the years. But he was caught off guard by the relatively poor rankings of some Washington County jurisdictions that have a reputation for being developer-friendly. That was true of the county itself, which came in at 11th-highest.

"Things have changed in Washington County in recent years," Keizur says.

Keizur understands that many if not most jurisdictions may disagree with the rankings. He says that is because some of the fees and other cost figures were hard to find, and some of the ratings were based on the opinions of homebuilders who took part in the project. But Keizur insists the index is an honest attempt to objectively evaluate their fee structures and permitting processes, and he notes no one else has ever published a similar, comprehensive comparison.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JAIME VALDEZ - The 72Foster currently being built at Southeast 72nd Avenue and Foster Road in Portland is an example of the kind of project the Metro bond could help fund if approved by voters.

Turning concerns to advocacy

The idea of the Local Government Accountability Index came about long before Metro began considering its affordable housing bond. But it was not the first thing on Keizur's mind when he graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove with a degree in political science in 2000. Instead, he ran for the Hillsboro City Council as the liberal against a more conservative candidate backed by then-Republican state Sen. Bruce Starr.

"I won by 118 votes in the general election," Keizur said.

After eight years on the council, Keizur left and went to work as a lobbyist for an area homebuilder. Doing that gave him respect for how hard they work and how many risks they take, with government regulations and fees making their jobs even harder.

"When was the last time you took out a $500,000 loan and paid interest on it without knowing when you'd be able to finish your project, and then put almost all the profit back into another project, all to produce the housing that people want and need?" Keizur asks.

When the Great Recession hit, Keizur lost his job and started a homeowner-association management company called Blue Mountain Community Management. He quickly picked up contracts from major homebuilders he knew with properties that needed such a service. Keizur says when he sold the company to a larger firm last year, he became semi-retired and turned his attention to the cause that had been increasingly coming to his attention — advocating on behalf of homebuilders who cannot build housing that most families can afford, in part because of government regulations, fees, and the lack of financial incentives.

That's when Keizur incorporated Affordable Oregon as a public benefit organization in December 2017, with the encouragement of homebuilders he had met over the years. It now has 1,000 members, Keizur says, but is supported by only a few small donations. Its website features position statements on the government-imposed obstacles Keizur has identified, including the lack of buildable land caused partly by the urban growth boundary that Metro administers, higher permit fees and construction-related charges, bureaucratic delays in issuing permits, and infrastucture funding challenges.

Keizur also undertook the Local Government Affordable Index project with the help of several volunteer homebuilders and their employees. The idea was to document the complaints he had been hearing for years about government-created problems facing homebuilders in the cities and counties in the region. They gathered and analyzed as much information as they could for months, then released the report on July 7.

The Portland Tribune talked to two of the other people who contributed to the index. They did not want their names used because they are still working in some of the jurisdictions.

"I actually thought it was the best analysis of regulatory impact that I've ever seen and would be a great model for other areas of Oregon and the U.S.," one of them said.

Keizur says the research helped convince him of the need to oppose Metro's affordable housing bond when it started heading for the ballot. Although Keizur says he and other homebuilders agree that much more affordable housing needs to be built, they do not believe government-financed projects reserved for lower income households is the best solution.

Although Keizur expects to be attacked as the conservative in the contest, he does not not agree with that label.

"I'm a liberal Democrat on social issues. I don't believe there's anything liberal or conservative about not using public funds efficiently," he says.

Local Government Accountability Index rankings

Here is is a partial summary of how Affordable Oregon ranked 19 jurisdictions in the metropolitan area, from worst (No. 19) to best (No. 1).

The rankings give extra weight to objective data (like system development charges) and less to subjective responses (like industry opinions of their permitting reviews). "Time to market" lengths are industry estimates because no jurisdictions track permits from application to project completion.

19. Portland

System development charges: 15th ($35,464)

Building permit process: 18th ($9,131)

Planning and engineering process: 17th ($18,706)

Time to market: 30 months.

18. West Linn

System development charges: 19th ($40,945)

Permitting: 15th ($5,705)

Planning and engineering: 16th ($16,842)

Time to market: 24 Months.

17. Beaverton

System development charges: 17th ($37,303)

Permitting: 13th ($5,654)

Planning and engineering: 11th ($14,826)

Time to market: 20 months.

16. Lake Oswego

System development charges: 16th ($35,987)

Permitting: 3rd ($3,683)

Planning and engineering: 15th ($16,539)

Time to market: 24 months

15. Tigard

System development charges: 18th ($39,637)

Permitting: 6th ($4,707)

Planning and engineering: 12th ($14,956)

Time to market: 18 months.

14. Oregon City

System development charges: 7th ($27,098)

Permitting: 19th ($9,778)

Planning and engineering:16th ($13,917)

Time to market: 20 months.

13. Wilsonville

System development charges: 12th ($34,571)

Permitting: 4th ($3,800)

Planning and engineering: 16th ($13,917)

Time to market: 18 months

12. Hillsboro

System development charges: 10th ($32,592)

Permitting: 14th ($5,676)

Planning and engineering: 4th ($12,533)

Time to market: 20 months

11. Washington County

System development charges: 13th ($34,630)

Permitting: 1st ($2,962)

Planning and engineering: 9th ($14,445)

Time to market: 22 months.

10. Clackamas County

System development charges: 8th ($31,034)

Permitting: 5th ($4,397)

Planning and engineering: 18th ($18,944)

Time to market: 18 months

9. Cornelius

System development charges: 11th ($33,814)

Permitting 10th ($5,273)

Planning and engineering: 8th ($13,971)

Time to market: 18 months.

8. Happy Valley

System development charges: 14th ($34,721)

Permitting: 12th ($5,549).

Planning and engineering: 6th ($13,218).

Time to market: 16 months.

7. Newberg

System development charges: 5th ($25,616)

Permitting: 17th ($7,812)

Planning and engineering: 3rd ($12,392)

Time to market: 18 months.

6. Sherwood

System development charges: 9th ($31,660).

Permitting: 2nd ($3,327)

Planning and engineering: 14th ($16,120)

Time to market: 18 months.

5. Gresham

System development charges: 3rd ($21,778)

Permitting: 7th ($4,882)

Planning and engineering: 13th ($15,319)

Time to market: 24 months.

4. Troutdale

System development charges: 2nd ($16,250)

Permitting: 11th ($5,491)

Planning and engineering: N/A.

Time to market: N/A

3. Forest Grove

System development charges: 4th ($25,119)

Permitting: 16th ($5,857)

Planning and engineering: 1st ($9,664)

Time to market: 18 months.

2. Tualatin

System development charges: 6th ($26,435)

Permitting: 9th ($5,261).

Planning and engineering: 2nd ($12,266)

Time to market: 18 months

1. Milwaukie

System development charges: 1st ($13,719)

Permitting: 8th ($4,993)

Planning and engineering: 5th ($12,797)

Time to market: 18 months

To learn more about Affordable Oregon its Local Government Accountability Index: visit affordableoregon.org.

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