Metro refers $652.8 million housing bond to November ballot
The Metro Council unanimously voted to refer a $652.8 million regional affordable housing bond to the November 2018 ballot on Thursday.
The measure is projected to create up to 2,400 new homes — or up to 3,900 if a proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution passes and eases an existing prohibition against private businesses partnering with governments on general obligation bond-supported affordable housing projects.
The measure would create a new affordable housing function for the regional government. All seven council members said the affordable housing crisis is a regionwide issue that demands a regional response. They argued that lower-income residents cannot keep up with rising housing costs, with too many facing eviction and homelessness.
"We have a moral imperative to help these people," said Metro President Tom Hughes, who first announced elected regional government would consider such a measure last November.
Councilor Craig Dirksen said passage of the bond will help mitigate housing cost increases created by gentrifiction caused by transit and transportation projects supported by Metro.
"We need to be able to help balance out the negative impacts and help people stay in their home," said Dirksen.
The vote followed a three-plus hour long hearing dominated by supporters of the measure, inlcuding affordable housing advocates, social justice advocates, public employee union leaders, and low-income residents who said they had been priced out of their homes.
The most prominent opponents were two well-known free market advocates, Portland State University associate real estate finance professor Gerard Mildner and John Charles, president of the Cascade Policy Institute. Both blamed Metro for helping to create the affordable housing crisis by limiting the amount of land available for new homes with the urban growth boundary it administers. Milner and Charles said that government-funded housing is an inefficient way to create a limited number of additional homes that are unlikely to make much of a difference.
"This is a feel good measure that won't be very effective," said Milner, who is also the academic director at the PSU Center for Real Estate.
But Councilor Sam Chase, who began pushing Metro to adopt an equitable housing strategy in 2014, said private sector will not build affordable housing on its own.
"Unless we provide for those at the lowest income levels, the market will not do that," said Chase.
Metro says the measure would cost the owner of an average $240,000 home in the region $60 a year for the life of the bond.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue at tinyurl.com/yaxhkg3h.