An obvious response to the housing crisis facing Oregon is to build more of it, and especially more of it that is affordable to people of modest means. Federal dollars are available to encourage developers to build affordable housing, but a clause in the Oregon Constitution forbids any local tax dollars from contributing to housing projects unless the resulting housing is 100 percent publicly owned.
Article XI, Section 9 of the Oregon Constitution, adopted in 1859, says no local government “shall become a stockholder in any joint company, corporation or association, whatever, or raise money for, or loan its credit to, or in aid of, any such company, corporation or association.”
The Oregon Legislature passed a bipartisan measure to make an exception to that rule for affordable housing projects, and referred it to the voters because constitutional amendments require a public vote. Ballot Measure 102 will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot; we recommend a yes vote.
Voters in the Metro region, encompassing the three Portland-area counties, will be asked on Nov. 6 to approve $652.8 million in bonds to construct affordable housing, costing homeowners there about $5 a month. If the state constitutional restriction remains in place, the bonds, if passed, would build 2,400 homes. If Measure 102 also passes, those bonds could build 3,900 homes, all of which will remain permanently affordable.
Portland city officials want to be able to use public bond money in conjunction with the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which provides tax credits to developers who build affordable housing, but the federal program rules require private ownership of the resulting projects, so Portland has to keep local bond revenue and the federal funds separate.
Measure 102 would allow Portland and any other cities and counties in the state to combine money from local bond measures with federal dollars to construct affordable housing in partnership with private businesses and nonprofit organizations. Voter approval of any bond measures would be required, and the total indebtedness would be capped at one-half of 1 percent of the value of all property in the city or county. The measure also would require annual audits and public reporting of bond expenditures.
The legislation referring the amendment to voters passed the Oregon House unanimously, and passed the Senate 24-5. Gov. Kate Brown and her opponent, Republican State Rep. Knute Buehler, both support it.
While a general ban on using public money for private benefit is a good idea, this is a reasonable exception to that rule, limited only to affordable housing projects and only with voter approval. It allows local governments to help construct affordable housing without being required to own and manage it, and it will help address the severe housing shortage now plaguing the state, including Southern Oregon.
More affordable housing means more construction, which means more family-wage jobs in the local economy. We recommend voters pass Ballot Measure 102.