Affordable housing measures put to Oregon, Portland-area voters

A 67-unit affordable housing complex shown under construction in East Portland on July 10, 2013. (

Portland-area voters will decide the fate of a $652.8 million housing bond. But its reach could hinge on a constitutional amendment that will be decided by voters statewide.

Metro says the housing bond it referred to its voters in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, Measure 26-199, would build or preserve 2,400 to 3,900 homes for low-income residents.

The 1,500-home spread depends on the outcome of Measure 102, the proposed constitutional amendment that boosters say would allow affordable housing bonds across the state go a lot further.

Here’s how it works:

The Oregon Constitution requires that most anything built or bought with bond money must be owned by the government that issued the bonds, not a private entity.

But that’s not how most affordable housing is built these days; reduced-rent homes are often built, owned and operated by private corporations, many of them nonprofits. And federal tax credits, sold to private investors who are usually part-owners in the project, are a key source of funding. That all means bond money is off limits.

Measure 102 would let local governments put bond money toward privately owned projects. That means bond proceeds — such as from the Metro housing bond, if approved, or the $258 million bond Portland voters approved in 2016 — could be combined with the revenue from selling tax credits in projects belonging to housing nonprofits.

"It can go farther," said Dan Valliere, the chief executive of nonprofit affordable housing developer Reach Community Development Corp., "and everything can go faster, too."

It could also help Oregon use federal funds it’s leaving on the table.

The state gets an allocation of tax credits each year that it doesn’t use, largely because there isn’t enough state and local funding for affordable housing to make the projects work financially.

"If you look at any tax credit project, you’ll always find the tax credit is accompanied by a local funding source," Valliere said. "Those are fully maxed out every year."

The constitutional amendment has broad and bipartisan support, even among opponents of Metro’s housing bond like Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler, because it leans on the private sector to help create housing that most agree is urgently needed.

Metro housing bond

The Metro bond measure, meanwhile, would raise $652.8 million for affordable housing projects, which property owners would pay back through higher property taxes over the next 30 years.

Property taxes would rise 24 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, Metro says, or $60 a year for a home with an assessed value of $250,000. (Although the region’s average home value is far higher than $250,000, the average home’s assessed value was $231,000 last year.)

The proceeds would be used to build 2,400 affordable apartments if Measure 102 fails. But if the constitutional amendment passes and bond money can be combined with federal tax credits, the bond measure could build 3,900.

The apartments would mostly be within reach of families making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income; that’s about $49,000 for a family of four.

Metro-area rents have been climbing at a brisk pace for years. The average rent on a one-bedroom apartment now tops $1,100, a 56 percent jump since 2010. Two bedrooms typically run $1,300, a 59 percent surge.

About one in four metro-area renters are putting more than half of their income toward housing, and there are increasingly fewer options for anyone making below the median income. The cities of Portland and Vancouver have declared housing emergencies in recent years.

"We believe that the market is not meeting the needs of too many people," said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who supports the bond measure. "Doing nothing is not an option."

But the region has a deficit of about 48,000 affordable housing homes, far more than the housing bond could provide even under the most optimistic scenarios.

Opponents say that’s a good reason to vote "no." Raising property taxes, they say, will hurt those who need affordable housing but can’t manage to get into one of the limited rent-restricted units.

"Many of those not benefiting from this will be affected by it, because they will pay for it," said Andy Duyck, the Washington County chairman, who opposes the measure. "If you make matters worse on the market side, you’re driving more people into the need for affordable housing."

He says that Metro, with its limited experience in the affordable housing realm, will add costs and inefficiencies.

Instead, Duyck believes the responsibility should stay with local housing authorities, like the one he oversees in Washington County. Metro, which oversees the region’s land use, should focus on increasing the overall supply of homes, he said.

Lynn Peterson, the Metro Council’s president-elect, says the agency does need to address the cost of building in the Portland area. But, she says, problem is too urgent to wait.

"This is a crisis," she said. "This is not the time to say same-old, same-old."

— Elliot Njus

enjus@oregonian.com
503-294-5034
@enjus

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