Voters in the three-county Portland region will be asked to approve a $652 million bond package this fall to help build affordable housing.
The Metro Council voted Thursday to send the borrowing plan to voters in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. The typical homeowner will pay about $60 more a year. The bond measure could build as many as 3,900 new homes.
Leaders of the regional government say the bond measure is an acknowledgement that the entire Portland region — not just the city of Portland — is experiencing a housing crisis.
“We have a moral imperative to help,” said Metro Council President Tom Hughes. “It’s who we are as Oregonians.”
Councilor Betty Dominguez said voters need to understand the ripple effects of housing instability, particularly on children.
“When a child has to move two to three times in a year because the rent has been raised, we’re failing that child. They can’t ever succeed. The data proves that,” she said. “We owe our children better than that.”
Metro is the regional government that oversees land-use planning and the urban growth boundary, as well as recycling and public facilities such as the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Convention Center.
Top agency officials say it makes sense for them to take a leadership role in the housing crisis, noting that all three counties on the Oregon side of the Portland region are suffering from a substantial lack of affordable housing.
Demand for housing far outpaces supply, a result of rapid growth across the metro area, the slowdown in development during the Great Recession and the private sector’s focus on more expensive apartments and houses since the economy picked back up.
Portland and Multnomah County have received most of the attention from people worried about rising housing prices. But the estimated wait time to get into a public housing unit in Clackamas County ranges from one to seven years. In Washington County, it’s almost three years.
Over the past decade, average rents have also risen almost twice as fast as renter incomes. Individual communities have stepped in with public funding for more housing; two years ago, Portland voters approved a $250 million bond package to build more units, and Vancouver voters agreed to a special tax levy for housing.
“The magnitude of this housing crisis is bigger than any one of us,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who testified in favor of the bond measure. “The market forces that drive up rents are oblivious to county lines … the crisis is just as real in Milwaukie as it is in Beaverton.”
Clackamas County Chairman Jim Bernard also testified in favor of the borrowing plan Thursday. But Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck emailed the Metro board this week urging them to reconsider.
Duyck is retiring this year. The leading vote-getter in the May primary to replace him was Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who faces County Commissioner Bob Terry in the November general election. She voted for sending the bond measure to voters.
“We have a housing crisis in Oregon,” Harrington said. “That’s why I am so excited to support this.”