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For many months now, Portland residents have lamented the soaring cost of housing in their city, but they’ve also felt helpless to do much about it. The Nov. 8 election offers a chance for them to make a dent in the problem through the best means possible — by actually increasing the supply of affordable places to live.


Measure 26-179, which appears on ballots within the city of Portland, isn’t a perfect proposal. Nonetheless, it promises to pay for construction or renovation of enough lower-cost rental units to make a real difference for hundreds of individuals and families.

The Portland City Council sent the $258.4 million measure to the ballot after city and county officials looked at a variety of options, including exotic notions such as a dining tax and a developer impact fee. They ultimately decided on the bond measure, which has the definite advantage of producing a large chunk of money quickly through property taxes.

The $258.4 million raised by the sale of bonds would be used to either build or renovate an estimated 1,300 rental units. We believe the city should aim higher than that — the 1,300 figure should be the minimum, not the upper limit. A five-member oversight committee would be appointed to review bond expenditures, and we hope part of their charge would be to maximize this public investment and obtain more than what’s being promised so far.

Once they are built or rehabilitated, the rental units would be owned by the city and managed by contractors, most likely nonprofit organizations. Rents would be capped at a level affordable for low-income residents. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman says 600 of the 1,300 units would be available to people or families earning between zero and 30 percent of the median family income. The rest would be targeted toward people making less than 60 percent of the median family income.

What does that mean in real terms? In 2016, 60 percent of the median family income for a family of four amounts to $43,980 per year. In other words, these rental units would be aimed squarely at a portion of the population that’s been priced out of Portland and nearby communities.

Measure 26-179 won’t solve all of Portland’s housing issues. The homeless population won’t disappear simply because there are cheaper apartments made available. The cost of buying a home in Portland will not fall. Working families whose earnings are above the cutoff for publicly built housing will still find their household budgets stretched by rising rents.

And, of course, the $258.4 million bond sale doesn’t come without a cost to property owners. The typical Portland homeowner would see property taxes rise by $6.25 per month (based on the average assessed value in the city). We believe that is a reasonable contribution for homeowners to make toward easing a housing affordability problem that nearly everyone acknowledges as severe.

Voters should approve Measure 26-179 and then hold city officials accountable for getting the most out of this important investment.

Contract Publishing

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