It’s time to help as many as 12,000 people find an affordable place to call home.
That was the message from Metro chief operating officer Martha Bennett, who presented her recommendations for a region-wide affordable housing funding program at a Metro Council work session on Tuesday.
Bennett’s recommendations include asking voters in the Metro region to support a $652.8 million bond to build affordable housing across greater Portland. That bond would cost property owners $0.24 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $60 a year for the average Portland-area homeowner.
“We are dealing with a period of exceptional change,” Bennett said. “There is a widening gap between people who can afford a place to live, and people who can’t. The gap is even worse if you’re a person of color.”
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But, she said, the crisis is not inevitable nor intransigent.
“People in our region still believe that there is the possibility of making sure everyone has a safe, affordable place to live,” Bennett said.
As construction costs and rents have risen across the country, lower-level incomes have not kept up, forcing families and seniors to choose between food, medicine and shelter. State officials say there are more than 8,000 students experiencing homelessness in greater Portland schools. The average Social Security retirement benefit in the three-county area is only $1,400 a month.
And a worker making $15 an hour and working full time can only afford an apartment that costs $780 a month.
The bond proposal sets the region on the right path, said Jes Larson, Metro’s regional affairs manager.
“We are taking a bite out of a big problem, and it’s a big bite,” she said.
The Metro Council is scheduled to vote on the referral on June 7. Several councilors had questions about the proposal at Tuesday’s work session.
“Oregon has a deep history of exclusion laws,” said Councilor Bob Stacey, referencing racist policies that date to the founding of the state’s government. “Can you articulate the ways that this measure yields benefits that are relevant to people of color?”
Bennett said racial equity was the most challenging part of crafting a measure. Much work has been done to engage communities of color, she said, in how to draft a measure. For example, the measure includes ample multi-bedroom housing units, for larger families or families who want to live with more than 2 generations under one roof.
“We’re going to work collaboratively with our local government partners to engage with community of color organizations to talk to them about location and design, and how we ensure that those practices are part of (contracts),” Bennett said. “We’ll be including culturally specific organizations on our oversight committee to make sure we’re tracking it not only on the project level, but on the program level as well.”
Councilor Kathryn Harrington said she wanted to see more detail in the final resolution that the council was scheduled to vote on June 7.
“The voters deserve to see the Metro Council authorize an affordable housing bond with the goals we’ve all worked so hard to be clear on, and to ensure that the Metro Council continues to have the authority to be true to the regional goals and targets,” Harrington said. “It’s a marvelous proposal, but it has some details that need to be clearly adopted by the council as we serve the voters which we are elected to represent.”
Councilor Betty Dominguez, who works in affordable housing, said it ultimately is a question of whether voters think affordable housing is a priority in greater Portland.
“People will vote on what’s important to them,” she said. “If housing is important, they’ll vote for that.”
Learn more about the housing proposal