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2018 Oregon Legislature refers proposed state constutional amendment to November 2018 ballot.

COURTESY HOME FORWARD - A 240-unit affordable housing project to be built by Home Forward with Portland's support at Northeast Grand and Hassalo.Oregon voters could boost future spending on affordable housing at the November 2018 general election.

Before it adjourned on Saturday, the 2018 Oregon Legislature referred a state constitutional amendment to the ballot to ease restrictions on property tax-backed bonds for affordable housing projects.

The proposed amendment could appear on the same ballot as an affordable housing bond measure sponsored by Metro, the elected regional government in the Portland area.

If the amendment passes, other governments in the state might be encouraged to put additional affordable housing bond measure on future ballots.

The proposed amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 201. It would ease a restriction in the Oregon Constitution that says local governments may not "raise money for, or loan its credit to, or in aid of" a private company. The provision was originally adopted in 1859 and amended in 1917.

The restriction conflicts with the way affordable housing projects are traditionally financed in Oregon. Almost all are funded by a mix of government agencies, non-profit organizations and private developers. All contribute financially to the projects.

But the restriction has been interpreted as meaning that if voters approve a bond measure specially for affordable housing projects, the sponsoring government cannot partner with private businesses on them. That interpretation has been applied to the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by Portland voters at the November 2016 general election.

As a result, for the first time, the Portland Housing Bureau build and own the projects fund by the bond itself. Although the bond is expected to preserve or create 1,300 affordable housing units, that is far fewer than if private developers were also contributing to the projects.

The restriction concerns Metro, which began work on a regional affordable housing bond measure in November 2017. At the time, President Tom Hughes said a recent poll supported a $500 million bond, the final amount has yet to be determined.

But Metro has been concerned about the restriction in the constitution. It supported HJR 201 at the recent legislative session. At a recent Metro advisory committee on the possible bond, participants said the measure will probably have to include two different methods for spending the funds, one of the constitutional amendment is approved by voters and one of it fails. More housing can be created if it passes, they said.

The Metro Council must refer the possible bond measure to the ballot by June to meet all election deadlines.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue at portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/387900-277817-metro-housing-bond-gets-down-to-details.

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