In New Approach, Metro Leaders Ask Voters For $652 Million Housing Bond

By Anna Griffin (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Sept. 24, 2018 7 a.m.

Jim Bernard and Andy Duyck have a lot in common.


They both do a little farming in their free time and they both chair their local county boards.

And while the suburban communities they represent are different – Washington County is all in on a high-tech future, while Clackamas County remains heavily and proudly rural — Bernard and Duyck both acknowledge one big problem: housing.

“I think we see that no matter where we are, it doesn't matter if you're in a dense metropolitan area like Portland or if you're out in the rural area,” Duyck said. “Housing is just not available.”

The Metro regional government provides a host of basic, if not exactly sexy, public services in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Among those: It runs the Oregon Zoo, handles garbage and recycling and oversees regional land use.

This fall, voters will consider a new, more proactive approach on that last topic. Metro leaders want voters to approve Ballot Measure 26-199, a $652.8 million bond measure for housing. The request stems from research Metro leaders did on rising rents and home prices in the three-county area.

“The issues around the price and availability of housing were regional, not just in certain neighborhoods and certain places in Portland,” Metro CEO Martha Bennett said when explaining the bond measure to Metro councilors this summer. “Not only are rental prices going up and the price of homes going up, but they’re both going up faster than our region’s resident’s incomes.”

Rising rents are tied to another problem: The Portland area suffers from a dramatic lack of housing. The federal government stopped building public housing a long time ago. New private construction all but stopped during the recession. Since the economy picked back up, developers have focused on more affluent customers and more expensive units.

In Clackamas County, the median home price has jumped 8 percent in the past year, and there’s a one- to seven-year waiting list for publicly subsidized housing.

County Chairman Jim Bernard supports the bond measure.

“I gave up on the federal government coming in to save us,” he said. “Yeah, the state does help. But it’s not enough. It's never gonna be enough. We have to figure out, figure this out ourselves, and we need to do that by working together.”

In Washington County, the median home price is up to $406,000 – and jumped 6 percentage points in the last year. You can expect to wait at least three years for an open apartment in publicly subsidized housing

But County Chairman Andy Duyck does not support the bond. That regional approach Jim Bernard embraces as the only way out of this housing crunch? Duyck doesn’t like it.

“They’re saying that they're going to just be the conduit by which they raise the revenue and that they're going to disperse it via grants back to local governments,” he said. “But local governments have the ability to do the same thing. This is mission creep.”

To a certain extent, they have. Portland voters approved a $258 million bond measure for affordable housing two years ago. In the same election, Vancouver voters agreed to a special tax levy for more housing. Duyck says Washington county could pursue its own housing package if, as he hopes, voters reject the Metro bond.

Bernard and Duyck both say they’re voting for state Ballot Measure 102 this fall. That’s a state constitutional amendment that would allow governments to borrow money for affordable housing built and owned by private developers.

If Ballot Measure 102 passes, the Metro bond would build almost 4,000 new housing units. If it fails, the measure would build 2,400.

The cost of the bond wouldn’t change: it would be about $60 a year for the typical Portland-area property owner. Half of the money raised would go to build new homes. The other half would rehabilitate existing low-cost housing, ensuring it stays in use.

Duyck says that $60 a year is simply too much.

“Anytime you raise taxes on housing to try to solve the housing problem, you're just doing harm to a different group of people,” he said. “And it's not just landowners that you're doing harm to, you’re also doing harm to renters because the landowners will pass on the increased cost to the renters.”

He'd rather see local governments loosen restrictions on development – make it easier to get permits, for example, or expand the urban growth boundary – as a way to drive private investment.

Portland's South Waterfront provides an example of how high-end housing construction has boomed since the days of the Great Recession.

Portland's South Waterfront provides an example of how high-end housing construction has boomed since the days of the Great Recession.

Casey Minter / OPB

Bernard thinks Duyck’s position – that if the government just gets out of the way, the private sector will build more affordable housing – is naïve. If the private sector was going to solve this problem, his thinking goes, they would have already.


“I would say that we’re paying for it anyway,” he said. “It costs a lot more to do it the way we’re doing it. Both state and local taxpayers are paying for it anyway. And this is a crisis that needs to be resolved.”

In some ways, this is a philosophical disagreement between the leaders of two very different suburban counties. On the west side of Portland, Washington is the booming high-tech home to Intel and Nike. On the east, Clackamas County unfolds from Mount Hood to just outside Salem, and its leaders have strained to boost the economy while maintaining a more country feel.

In some ways, this is a political dispute – Bernard is a Democrat, and Duyck a Republican.

It’s also a family squabble. Turns out they’re cousins.

“From a distance, we are and probably through marriage a couple of times,” Duyck said. “We can track it.”

“I believe his grandmother was a Bernard,” Bernard said. “His grandmother might've been a Bernards, which is the same. We just dropped the s.”

Voters will settle this family fight – and the future course of housing in the Portland region — on Nov. 6. Ballots hit the mail in mid-October.

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