Voters in greater Portland could have the opportunity this May to authorize funding for a regional response to the regional crisis that has forced thousands of Oregonians to live outside. At a work session on Feb. 4 the Metro Council heard from housing advocates who spoke to the need for permanent solutions to the systemic problems that have led to the present situation.
“We all recognize that there is a crisis,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, “and I think consideration of a ballot measure for May  would help this region accelerate getting those services and homes to people who need them.”
Katrina Holland of HereTogether, a coalition of service providers, business leaders and advocates, shared the results of the group’s public engagement efforts across the region. What they have heard from the community, she said, is that “it’s time to engage the public — our voters — in this process because it is a shared community burden that we are all responsible for.”
This is a new realm of work for Metro, but the housing crisis is not confined to one city or one county. It is a regional concern that requires a regional approach. The HereTogether coalition has conducted polls and focus groups in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties, said Holland, finding that “the majority of people understand that the housing crisis is a systemic issue and we should address it in a systemic way, with compassion.”
Holland was joined by Mitch Hornecker, vice chair of the coalition, who explained that “the solution is the same in every community; it’s housing with flexible services. Folks that are hopeless and living on the street are not going to be responsive to services. Folks that are housed and dealing with mental health problems or drug addiction, and don’t have services to help them, will not stay housed very long.”
The solution, Hornecker said, is based on “two simple concepts — get people housed who are hopeless and provide them the support services they need so that they can address their challenges.” The measure being considered by the Metro Council would complement the work Metro is already doing in affordable housing, offering rental assistance, mental health, and addiction services.
It is not planned that Metro would provide these services. Rather, the agency would contract with nonprofits who have expertise in this matter as well as other local governments. Metro will guarantee that any solution prioritizes equity and has measurable outcomes. As with other Metro-funded initiatives, a community oversight committee would be convened to ensure public accountability.
Several advocates for the measure have suggested paying for services with a 1 percent income tax on residents of the Portland region who make more than $125,000 a year, or couples that make $250,000.
The Metro Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the proposed ballot measure on Feb. 13, and public forums will be held that week across greater Portland. The council is expected to vote on the proposal on Feb. 20.
“It is obvious to anybody who is watching in the world today that the system seems to be broken,” said Peterson, “and we have to act now.”
This page has been updated to reflect that a revenue stream has not been chosen by the Metro Council.