The local ballot measure proposed to repurpose tax dollars set aside for supportive housing programs and use the funds for short-term homeless shelters has been rejected by Metro Regional Government's legal team.
The measure, introduced on March 25 by lobbyist group People for Portland, addresses a previously-approved 2020 Metro ballot measure. That previous measure uses a 1 percent tax on high-income households in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties to fund supportive housing services—an umbrella term for programs that help homeless people move into housing as well as maintain that housing with the help of specifically tailored on-site social services, ranging from detox programs to medical care to child care. Since the new funding was first distributed to counties in summer 2021, the money has gone toward opening new low-income housing programs, covering rent vouchers, and uplifting programs that help people with mental illness retain housing.
The new Metro ballot initiative proposed funneling 75 percent of all supportive housing services fund dollars towards temporary homeless shelters. It also suggested restricting those funds from municipalities that did not sweep homeless camps, and allowed members of the public to sue elected officials for not upholding the ballot measure's promises.
In a letter sent to Multnomah County Elections Division director Tim Scott Friday, Metro Attorney Carrie MacLaren writes that the proposed initiative doesn't pass legal muster to move forward. Specifically, MacLaren writes that the measure proposes to tinker with administrative elements of policy, which ballot initiatives aren't allowed to impact under the Oregon Constitution.
Additionally, the letter notes that the ballot initiative doesn't include the sections of Metro code it aims to amend. MacLaren writes: "Without the context of the existing sections of Metro Code, voters do not have sufficient information to understand the full impact of [the initiative]."
MacLaren adds that the proposed initiative lacks an "ordaining clause," which is required under Metro code.
HereTogether, the nonprofit coalition behind Metro's supportive housing services measure, applauded MacLaren's ruling Friday.
“The Metro attorney’s decision today is evidence that the measure was always more about politics than good policy," the group said in a press statement. "A poorly crafted ballot measure aimed at changing direction a year from now was never going to provide immediate relief for our unhoused neighbors."
People for Portland and the individuals who signed on as petitioners for their initiative are allowed to challenge MacLaren's decision. In a statement posted to social media, People for Portland accused the ruling of being politically driven
"Metro politicians are attempting to deny democracy and silence voters," the group wrote. "They have invented novel legal theories to keep an initiative off the ballot to do what the government has failed to do — provide safe shelter for the homeless and end the deadly camping on our streets."
People for Portland did not state whether or not their group will attempt to challenge the decision in court.