My View: Real help for the homeless
Our votes for housing bonds and a constitutional change will help Portland's homeless citizens by increasing the availability of affordable housing. Metro's ballot measure 26-199 will support an estimated 2,700 affordable homes, 3,900 if ballot measure 102, an accompanying Oregon constitutional amendment, also passes. Metro's $652.8 million in new bonds will add about $4 per month in property taxes to a home assessed at $200,000.
Statewide Planning Goal 10 requires Oregon's local governments to plan for affordable housing. But the goal is not being met because the private real estate market, alone, can't provide the necessary funding. Oregon underbuilt housing after the 2008 crash; at the same time it has become a haven for climate refugees, enterprising entrepreneurs, and Californians escaping congestion, costs, and conflagrations. This has driven up housing prices and driven down the availability of affordable housing.
Consider these figures: suppose a single Oregonian is paid $12 an hour and works full time (2,000 hours) a year. That yields a gross pay (without considering FICA and other deductions) of $24,000 or $2,000 a month. The recognized standard for housing as a share of income is 30 percent. That means the most that our neighbor should pay is $600/month. For 2018, the fair market rent for an efficiency apartment (that is, no separate bedroom) in Portland-Vancouver is $1,026 a month. What that means is that a single person working full time can't live in the Portland area without a rent subsidy.
A major provider of such subsidies is the Portland Housing Authority. Its dashboard for June shows a waiting list for public housing of 18,730 households. Metro says we currently are 49,000 total housing units short in our region, and a recent PSU study says we need 29,000 additional units of affordable housing. The need is clear.
What seems clear as well is that affordable housing needs will not be filled by public agencies alone. The private sector must be encouraged to help. Public-private partnerships have worked for years in many contexts—urban renewal, for example. In order to attract privately financed loans, there must be a stable source of payments, and governmental entities can provide this without having to foot the entire bill. The Oregon constitution needs to be amended to allow joint participation in the affordable housing context. That's what state ballot measure 102 does.
Opponents (including some County and City officials) argue that Metro, which is charged with planning for land use and transportation for the 25 cities and three counties in our region, is guilty of "mission creep" in addressing regional housing needs. But Oregon law requires Metro to collect data on housing needs and report it to the state. Opponents' argument appears to be little more than a turf battle. Our neighborhoods will be made stronger by voter approval of measures to address housing affordability and homelessness.
Opponents also argue that the problems of affordable housing and homelessness could be solved by expanding the urban growth boundary. That is a red herring, as our new Metro president, Lynn Peterson, says. Getting from, say, a Sandy home to a Forest Grove job is one of the worst things that can happen to our region because it increases congestion, increases pollution, and increases our impact on climate change.
Twenty percent of Oregonians have faced homelessness at some time in their lives. We recommend approval of ballot measures 26-199 and 102 to help assure that affordable housing is available when needed. The ballot measure and the constitutional change will help reduce the current affordable housing shortage.