The regional planning agency for the Portland, Oregon, area is considering putting forward a $652.8 million bond measure to create more affordable housing.

The Metro Council – made up of three counties and 24 cities including Portland – will decide Thursday afternoon whether to place the measure on the November ballot.

Mixed retail and residential buildings in Northwest Portland, Ore., are seen here.
An Oregon regional planning agency is proposing a $652.8 million bond measure for affordable housing in greater Portland. Bloomberg

The proposal would help create as many as 3,900 homes and provide housing for up to 12,000 of the region’s residents who earn far less than the median income, according to the agency.

The bond would cost 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed value – $60 a year for the average homeowner, according to Metro.

The plan is the culmination of a few years of planning by Metro on how best to address what Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett described as a “historic housing crisis” in a recommendation report to the council.

She urged “immediate action to address an urgent challenge facing our region.”

Metro -- whose duties include transportation planning, managing parks and trails, and running recreation facilities including the Oregon Zoo – has helped create about 700 units of housing near transit centers, said Andy Shaw, Metro’s director of government affairs.

“This is a big leap forward from that type of investment,” he said.

The proposal takes a broader, regional approach while providing a local source of funding that many agencies have lacked, Shaw said.

The program is aimed at those who are the most vulnerable with a majority of the homes expected to serve families who make 30% of the median income, according to the report. A smaller portion of the proceeds would also serve people at 60% to 80% of the median income. Addressing inequities in communities of color who have been displaced would be a high priority, under the plan.

“To build the housing that’s affordable for somebody that’s making 30% percent of the median income you have to have the public sector involved in a much more robust way,” Shaw said.

The bond proceeds would be used to build new housing; acquire and renovate existing low-cost housing; and purchase land for future housing. Metro would work with the three county and four city housing agencies in the region to distribute projects based on the assessed value of each county.

How much Metro can do will depend on another ballot measure in November that would lift a state constitutional prohibition on the use of general obligation bonds for nongovernmental projects.

Shaw said repealing the restriction would allow Metro to work with non-governmental housing groups to build more affordable housing.

If the constitutional amendment is not approved, Metro estimates it would only be able to build 2,400 homes for about 7,500 residents instead.

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