Metro poised to build more affordable housing than promised
Metro is on track to house more people than originally promised with the affordable housing bond approved by voters in the region in 2018.
Metro President Lynn Peterson delivered the good news during her annual State of the Region address to the City Club of Portland on Friday, Feb. 26. Although the elected regional government promised to build 3,900 units of affordable housing, Peterson said more than half that number — 2,100 units —already are being funded by only one-third of the bond funds that have been committed.
"At our current funding pace, we could house closer to 20,000 people, far exceeding the 12,000-person goal we set in the 2018 bond," Peterson said.
According to Metro, 20 projects in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties are in the pipeline, representing a funding commitment of $217 million for 2,146 units. Seven projects are under construction, representing 543 units that will be completed this and early next year.
Peterson also said work is well underway on the related supportive housing services measure approved by Metro voters in May 2020. It will impose a 1% income tax on high earners to fund services to help keep the chronically homeless in permanent housing. Peterson promised the final plans for each county approved by Metro will have metrics for measuring success.
Although Metro is contracting the city of Portland to collect the taxes, the implementing ordinance is currently tied up in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Metro has asked the court to approve its collection rules, which are not consistent with those governing the collection of state income taxes. A coalition of businesses is expected to soon ask the court to declare the proposed rules illegal because of the differences. Metro said its rules can be different because it has its own voter-approved charter.
The housing bond announcement was one of the few bright spots in the address that acknowledged Metro and the region has suffered greatly over the past year. Peterson recorded her address at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, one of several theaters and visitor venues operated by Metro. Government-imposed restrictions to fight COVID-19 shut all of them down last March, curtailing Metro's revenues and throwing hundreds of employees out of work.
"I want to acknowledge how millions of Oregonians suddenly had their employment threatened or ended, how the federal government sent little help, and how employers, including Metro, had to make terrible choices," said Peterson, who nevertheless praised Metro for quickly making some of the venues — such as the Oregon Convention Center and the Oregon Expo Center — available as homeless shelters and COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.
Although the Oregon Zoo has reopened, it is unclear when the other venues will return to normal operations. Peterson promised they will be ready to welcome the community back when it is safe.
Peterson also said the pandemic has revealed inequities in society that must be addressed.
"It hits me that a disproportionate number of people of color were infected with COVID-19 — that people of Latino ancestry make up 13% of Oregon's population and 35% of our cases. That people of Black, indigenous and Pacific Islander ancestry in Oregon were more than twice as likely to contract COVID-19," Peterson said.
Peterson also talked a great deal about rebuilding the economy of the region going forward, even though Metro does not have a formal regional economic development role. Both in her address and the following question-and-answer session, Peterson repeatedly said the region must rebuild its economy with an "equity lens" to ensure that marginalized communities, including people of color, are included in the recovery.
"We will grow our economy while also meeting our needs for social responsibility and creating shared purpose within our community again," said Peterson, who explained Metro was partnering with Albina Vision, a nonprofit working to revitalize the Rose Quarter area as a center Black-owned businesses.
The questions were poised by Katrina Holland, executive director of the JOIN homeless services agency and co-founder of Reimagine Oregon, a project to dismantle systemic racism in the state.
In response to a question, Peterson said she was disappointed by the defeated of Metro's regional transportation funding measure at the November 2020 election. It was opposed by many businesses that said its proposed payroll tax would hurt the economic recovery. Peterson said many conversations are currently underway about how to pass a replacement measure that might be submitted as soon as next year.
"We need to make a direct connection with people about how the measure would make their lives better," Peterson said.
A related Portland Tribune story can be found here.
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