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It’s no secret that Portland’s in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Since former Mayor Charlie Hales declared a “housing state of emergency” in 2015, Portland and Multnomah County have thrown their weight behind a number of major shelter programs, low-income housing developments, and new protections for tenants who may be one late rent check away from eviction. But we’re nowhere near closing the housing gap for the region’s poorest, a population that has watched rents rise by more than 40 percent since 2011. It’s also clear that this housing deficit spreads beyond city and county boundaries and has rapidly become a problem for neighboring cities like Gresham and Beaverton.
That’s why we’re entrusting Metro, the regional government that oversees Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, to roll out a $652.8 million affordable housing bond across the region. The price? An annual fee of around $60 for all homeowners. While the Metro bond certainly won’t solve the housing crisis, it will jump-start a coordinated, regional effort to keep the area’s most vulnerable from slipping into homelessness.
The proposed affordable housing bond promises to fund 2,400 permanently affordable homes for more than 7,500 people in the region. That number will be doubled if Oregon voters pass Measure 102—a statewide constitutional amendment that will make it easier for government bodies to partner with nonprofits to create housing. To make the biggest impact, Metro’s focusing on the most vulnerable renters first. While the metro region currently offers a decent number of rental options for people who are “moderately” low-income, and make 60 to 80 percent of the region’s median annual income (between $49,000 and $65,000 for a family of four or between $34,000 and $45,000 for an individual), it’s facing a severe shortfall of around 48,000 rental units for those making less.
“We need to move forward because doing nothing is not an option.”
Up to 50 percent of the bond’s funds will go toward housing for people making no more than 30 percent of the region’s median annual income (around $25,000 for a family of four or $17,000 for a single individual), a population that is disproportionately represented by communities of color. No more than 10 percent of homes would be offered to people making 60 to 80 percent of the median family income. Half of the new homes will have at least two bedrooms to accommodate families.
The few opponents to this bond—including Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler—believe Oregon’s affordable housing shortfall is best addressed by giving tax breaks and subsidies to private developers who offer low-income housing. But in Portland, we’ve seen similar programs disincentivize new residential development, and instead encourage developers to move major projects to other cities and states. By now, it’s painfully obvious the private market won’t cure our housing woes—and we’re long past the point of waiting to see if it’ll change course.
While Metro, known for managing regional parks, the Oregon Zoo, and waste facilities, doesn’t normally take a role in housing issues, this kind of widespread crisis calls for widespread coordination. And Metro is the only local government agency that has proven success at managing massive, unwieldy tri-county programs. In the words of incoming Metro President Lynn Peterson: “We need to move forward because doing nothing is not an option.”