Metro Council Delays Referring Homeless Service Measure To Ballot Amid Revenue Confusion

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Feb. 19, 2020 10:45 p.m.

The Portland area regional government, Metro, has delayed referring a homeless service measure to the May ballot after estimates came to light showing the measure would bring in $135 million — about half what advocates were hoping for.

Related: County Chairs Come Out In Support Of Metro's Homeless Services Ballot Measure


Last month, HereTogether Oregon, a coalition pushing for a regional response to the homelessness crisis, asked Metro to refer a ballot measure that would bring in between $250 million to $300 million a year for services targeting chronic homelessness, such as mental health support, addiction services and rental assistance.


The vote to refer the measure to the ballot was originally scheduled for Thursday, but Metro is struggling to decide what kind of taxing mechanism should accompany it. The favored approach is a 1% tax on high-income earners — individuals earning more than $125,000 or couples making more than $250,000.

At a work session Tuesday, Metro council heard for the first time how much that mechanism was likely to raise: $175 million. The council was later told that number was $40 million off. The measure under consideration would actually bring in $135 million, according to staff. The mistake was first reported by Willamette Week.

Metro spokesperson Nick Christensen said the mistake was based on council staff misunderstanding a conversation with consulting firm ECONorthwest, which is helping crunch numbers for Metro.

The council says they now need more time to reconsider what kind of tax to propose — and has delayed a vote on whether to refer the measure to the ballot.

“A miscommunication led to an inaccurate estimate of what a regional income tax on high earners would raise,” Metro Council President Lynn Peterson wrote in a statement. “I want to apologize to the coalition for the confusion and look forward to following up and getting it right.”

In a report, ECONorthwest put a price tag on how much it would cost for the region to address chronic homelessness “at a scale unmatched by other communities along the West.” The report, which draws on past studies from Portland State University and the Corporation for Supportive Housing, says the measure would need to generate between $69 million and $119 million to provide supportive housing units to all who need them in the tricounty area. Providing preventative services for the households most at risk of losing their housing — 17,500 households by the report’s count — would cost almost $300 million annually.