Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, in a 22 minute State of the Region speech at the City Club of Portland, announced her support for a region-wide program to address homelessness in greater Portland.
Metro is working on ballot measures to address two of the most pressing concerns facing the region – increasingly congested and dangerous heavily traveled roads and housing the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in the region.
In partnership with Here Together, a local coalition seeking to address homelessness, Metro is coordinating community outreach conversations in each county to discuss how funding would support transitioning those living on the street into stable housing. These services, Peterson explained, include mental health care, addiction treatment, case management and access to health care.
One of the reasons regional homelessness requires immediate action, Peterson said, is that there have been at least 93 community members in Multnomah County who have died while living on the streets.
“I can’t sit here while people die in tents on the streets, parks and alleyways and parking lots across the region,” Peterson said.
Peterson, a former highway engineer and Metro transportation planner, identified that homelessness is not a new issue in the Portland area and that the federal government has played a key role in not supporting or providing low income housing and needed services. Compounded with the Great Recession, Peterson shared that homelessness has increased by 22 percent just in Multnomah County according to the most recent point in time count.
For some community members, Peterson explained, the Portland region is an accessible and welcoming place when it comes to housing, but for too many this is not the case.
“For many people, the Portland region we live in today is a very livable, pleasant place. It is not the perfect place. We can’t just stop in our tracks and say ‘good enough’ – because we have historic injustices to overcome, and because the world keeps changing around us. Because people will continue to move here. You have asked for boldness. You have asked for leaders that tell you the truth and strive to hold us all to a higher standard.”
Despite the expedited process for a potential Metro measure, Peterson expressed an ambitious commitment for bold action to provide housing and services for the most vulnerable throughout the region.
“It is obvious to everyone that the system is broken,” Peterson said.
In a question-and-answer session after Peterson’s speech, City Club moderator Colin Jones asked Peterson if Metro will be wading into new areas given its involvement in a potential housing bond.
Peterson explained that when it comes to housing and also transit, this is not new territory for the local regional government.
“We have been working for 25 years on transit oriented development and low income housing...so it wasn’t completely outside of our area of expertise,” Peterson said.
In fact Metro began the nation’s first regional affordable housing program through passing a bond measure specifically addressing affordable housing two years ago and has been steadily building region-wide housing.
In 2018, Metro passed a bond to fund housing projects in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington County. As of today, Peterson shared, the $652.8 million dollar bond measure has created an additional 683 new apartment homes regionwide. These homes include The Blackburn, supportive housing in Portland built in partnership with Central City Concern, and Cornelius Place in Washington County, helping seniors find stable housing near things they need, Peterson said.
And within the upcoming year, Peterson shared, Metro expects to start construction on another 700 apartments which will help more than 1,000 Oregonians find stable housing.
Over the coming week on Feb.10, Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 Metro staff and partners will meet with community members in Washington, Clackamas and Washington County to discuss a plan to provide stable housing a reality and possibly be a measure to vote on this coming May ballot.
While Metro is working to come up with a potential housing measure to address homelessness, for over a year Metro staff have set forth a plan to invest and improve some of the region’s most dangerous and congested corridors.
A major reason corridors have become increasingly unsafe is that they were originally designed as state highways for speedy travel by cars-not pedestrians or cyclists, Peterson said. Traffic safety is of such importance she explained because of the high fatality total each year amounting to 130 deaths regionwide each year since 2017.
Peterson shared with the audience that with this transportation measure, “we are making a down payment on making these multimodal corridors.”
After releasing a staff recommendation, the council called for local investment teams in each of the three counties which went on tours providing input on what types of issues need to be funded from building sidewalks to safer and faster traveling for all modes of commuting.
In addition to working with local investment teams, the council appointed a transportation advisory committee called the transportation funding task force. Since Jan. 2019 the task force has discussed 13 of the corridors identified to have the highest needs, including 82nd Avenue, McLoughlin Boulevard and Tualatin Valley Highway. Last month, the advisory team released an investment recommendations packet.
Investing in the region’s transportation system will have a lasting impact, Peterson said as she laid out the multiple reasons we commute and the personal significance it has for community members to get where they’re going safely and on time.
“The investments we are proposing will help bus riders spend more time with their families, help workers find new ways to get to their jobs, help families get the kids to school, and make it safer for everyone who uses our roads, no matter how they’re getting around.”
Peterson shared that she is proud of the transportation measure proposed and that it allows the region to meet needs for transportation equity, access and safety, but also climate goals.
“If we are going to continue prioritizing clean air and water, climate and our quality of life, we have to address traffic and transportation,” Peterson said.
The council president framed the issue of whether or not to address the region’s transportation system as a choice and that “doing nothing is a choice – it's a really bad choice.”
Learn more about efforts to fund transportation improvements