The Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday to refer a ballot measure to greater Portland voters that would authorize funding for supportive housing services. If approved by voters in the May 2020 election, the measure would complement Metro’s work on affordable housing by adding services such as addiction and recovery treatment, mental health care, and job training.
The revenue sources presented to voters consist of a marginal tax on high earners and a business tax that exempts small enterprises. A 1% tax would apply to annual incomes exceeding $200,000 per year for couples filing jointly, or $125,000 for individual filers – meaning a couple that earns $201,000 would pay $10 in taxes. This includes both resident income and non-resident income earned within the Metro district boundaries. The measure would also impose a 1% business profits tax that would exempt businesses with gross receipts of $5 million or less per year. Combined, these sources would raise an estimated $248 million per year.
A community oversight committee would ensure public accountability by evaluating and approving local implementation plans, monitoring program outcomes and overseeing the use of funds. The measure includes provisions for performance reviews and independent financial audits. Administrative and oversight costs would be limited to 5%, and voters would be consulted again in 2030 on whether to continue the tax. Implementation of the measure would begin in summer 2021.
Officials from across the region were present at the Metro Council chambers on Tuesday to urge the councilors to refer this measure. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler stressed the sense of urgency that surrounds the housing and homelessness crisis in the greater Portland, adding that “this is a regional challenge, and we’re facing it the right way — as a region.”
Implementation of this measure would follow a policy framework developed by the HereTogether coalition, a broad group of service providers, business leaders and advocates who have worked over the course of the last two years to identify the needs, develop strategies engage communities and build regional consensus.
The vote by the Metro Council was unanimous, adding to the consensus that the homelessness crisis is affecting the entire region.
“In my district in southern Washington and Clackamas counties,” said Councilor Craig Dirksen, “our homelessness crisis may look different than in downtown Portland, but no part of our region is untouched by this crisis. I live in Tigard — I’ve lived there for 43 years — and I see the effects of homelessness on families every day.”
Volunteering at the Good Neighbor Center in Tigard, said Dirksen, has taught him that “homelessness is about more than housing. In order to stabilize their lives and families, [people experiencing homelessness] need help with the kinds of issue that often lead to homelessness — help with things like job training, addiction recovery programs, or mental health services. Every part of this region has a major gap to fill when it comes to getting people the help we need.”
Councilor Shirley Craddick pointed out that in her district, which covers the east part of Multnomah County, there were more than 2,000 students reported as homeless in 2019. “Just think of the impact that has on the ability of those children to be successful in school, of how that erodes their confidence each day and how they might be tired, not sure of where they are going to sleep that night when they leave school each day," she said. "This has such a significant impact on the ability of those children to be successful in their lives.”
Speaking to Metro’s commitment to working through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Council President Lynn Peterson acknowledged the fact that homelessness disproportionately affects communities of color. “This measure takes tremendous strides to advance racial equity in our region by helping people who have experienced race-related traumas to get the support they specifically need in finding stable and permanent housing.”
The deadline to register to vote in this election is April 28, and the last day to safely return your ballot by mail is May 14. After that date, voters must use an official drop site. All ballots are due by 8:00 PM on Tuesday May 19.