If bond passes, Metro wants to spend money ASAP
Without coming right out and saying it, Metro is working to avoid a problem with Portland's affordable housing bond if its own measure passes at the Nov. 6 general election.
The Metro Council wants to spend as much of its proposed $652.8 million bond money as soon as possible, and not immediately get bogged down by bureaucratic procedures instead.
The Metro Council held a work session on the process for spending the bond funds on Sept. 18, almost two months before voters in the urbanized portions of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties will decide whether to approve Measure 26-199. Although that may seem premature, discussions between staff members from Metro and those governments that could receive the bond funds actually started before the council referred the measure to the ballot.
But, despite the extensive discussions, critical questions remain to be answered. They include how Metro will ensure that the 2,400 to 3,900 units will all be completed. As discussed at the work session, much will depend on the intergovernmental agreements to be signed between the elected regional governments and its partners if the measure is approved.
"It will be a collaborative process," Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett said in response to a question from Councilor Kathryn Harrington.
Also up in the air is exactly where the projects will be located. Metro says the funds raised through the measure will be returned to the counties in proportion to their share of the assessed value within its service district, minus some administrative costs and property purchases for future transit-rated projects. Under that arrangement, Multnomah County would receive the largest share of the funds, 45.5 percent. Washington County would follow at 33.7 percent, and Clackamas County would receive 20.8 percent.
The split is intended to guarantee 1,091 units are built in Multnomah County, 810 are built in Washington County, and 500 are built in Clackamas County. The totals would increase proportionally if Measure 102, a proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution on the same ballot, also passes, allowing businesses to partner on the projects.
But where the projects will be located within each county is still being studied. The advocacy group Housing Oregon has identified 26 potential locations with enough capacity for 1,600 units in the region through its affiliated organizations. They include sites in all three counties, ranging from some where properties are still under negotiation to others whose state and local funding applications are complete but not yet approved.
"This is really an unprecedented opportunity for the region," said Central City Concern Chief Housing Strategist Sean Hubert, who helped compile the list, which is confidential because some potential projects are in very early stages.
No one at the work session criticized Portland for its handling of the $258 million affordable housing bond approved by city voters at the November 2016 general election. But the issue has loomed over Metro's measure. Its opponents, including Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, have repeatedly cited what they call "delays" in the city's spending to demonstrate governmental inefficiency.
Portland officials have repeatedly said they are well underway to producing the 1,300 units of affordable housing promised if the measure passed. But anyone who followed the process knows that Mayor Ted Wheeler paused it after he took office in January 2017 and appointed an advisory board to recommend a framework for spending the money. It took many months of meetings to produce the proposal finally approved by the council last October, nearly a year after the measure was approved.
In contrast, Metro is trying to establishing its spending framework before the measure passes, which has been challenging because it is much more complicated. The city's bond money is being spent by one of its own agencies, the Portland Housing Bureau. But Metro is not a housing agency and so will have to distribute most of its bond funds to other governments. They will be the public housing authorities in all three counties and four cities eligible to receive federal Housing and Urban Development block grants, which are Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro and Portland.
The housing authorities have the ability to build projects anywhere within their counties, so some will likely go into non-block grant cities, like Oregon City. But Metro has set some minimum requirements. Among other things, the sites must be zoned for such developments and be large enough to accommodate 50 units. Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker, who opposes the measure, says there is no such available land in his city.
Metro has also set 10 percent of the funds aside to purchase property along current and future transit lines for affordable housing projects. Although no locations have been announced, it is assumed some will be in the Southwest Corridor between Portland and Tualatin, where TriMet is planning to build its next MAX line.
And, up to 5 percent has been set aside for administration and contingencies, with Metro and the counties each set to receive as much as 2 percent for operations related to the bond program.
After the deductions, governments in Multnomah County are expected to receive around $254 million for housing projects. Those in Washington County would receive $188 million and those in Clackamas County would receive $116 million.
Although many organizations have endorsed the measure, the complexity prompted the Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce and the East Metro Economic Alliance to remain neutral.