Advisory panel learns what housing bond might buy
If Metro places an affordable housing bond on the November ballot, the regional government will not be able to tell voters exactly how the funds will be spent.
That's because the measure will be on the same ballot as a proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution to allow greater flexibility on how such funds can be spent. Metro won't know whether the amendment will pass before it finalizes its own measure.
Because Metro is a government agency, its employees cannot say whether voters should support either measure. But during a meeting about Metro's measure in March, preliminary estimates prepared by the staff made it clear that more affordable housing units could be created if both measures pass.
"Under any scenario, more units can be acquired or built if the amendment (also) passes," said Jes Larson, a Metro government affairs specialist, who prefaced her statement by saying she was not endorsing either measure.
The group that met was a 32-member stakeholder advisory committee charged with helping the elected Metro Council determine the community values underlying its potential bond measure. The estimates previously had been discussed by a 22-member technical advisory committee working on many of the measure's details. Both committees include homeless service advocates, affordable housing developers, and representatives of governments within Metro's jurisdiction.
The estimates were based on a $500 million Metro affordable housing bond, although the exact figure has yet to be set. For discussion purposes, Metro staff used current average costs of $181,384 to buy and rehabilitate an existing housing unit and $292,956 to build a new one.
According to the estimates, if the constitutional amendment does not pass, the bond would support 1,898 units. If the amendment passes, the numbers ranged from 2,562 to 3,590 units, depending on the mix of them.
The difference is because the Oregon Constitution currently prevents governments from partnering with private businesses on construction projects funded by general obligation bonds. The amendment would repeal that restriction, allowing such bond funds to be spent the way governments traditionally help fund affordable housing projects — by splitting the costs with private and nonprofit partners.
The constitutional restriction currently is preventing Portland from partnering on projects funded by the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by Portland voters at the November 2016 election. Because of that, it is only expected to finance 1,300 units, far less than such an amount of city spending traditionally would help produce. And the city also must own and operate the projects funded by the bond for the first time.
The amendment was referred to the ballot by the 2018 Oregon Legislature in response to the affordable housing crisis. It is unclear how its passage would affect any funds Portland still has after the election.
The scenarios presented at the meeting reflected different mixes of the values the stakeholder committee has been discussing. Values they already have recommended include racial equity, to help overcome the historic discrimination that has trapped communities of color in poverty. They also support projects for the most vulnerable people at risk of becoming homeless that increase community access to transportation, employment, education, food and social services.
According to Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett, all decisions about the measure must be made by late May. They include the amount of the measure and the final mix of project types. The Metro Council must decide whether to put the measure on the ballot in June to meet state election deadlines.
Metro President Tom Hughes announced his government would pursue a regional affordable housing bond measure last November. He made the announcement the day after Metro took responsibility for a regional transportation funding measure from TriMet. The transit agency had been planning to place a $1.7 billion measure on the November ballot to help support the new MAX line proposed for the Southwest Corridor between Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. Metro now is planning to place such a measure on the November 2020 ballot.