Finding a fix: A path to affordable housing

Cities, Metro regional government look for ways to make housing more affordable

Penny Ferguson’s rent has more than doubled in the Troutdale apartment she has rented for nearly 15 years. Nearly 60 percent of her income is spent on housing-related expenses.

"Every time I sign a lease, it’s another increase," Ferguson said. "My lease was up in October, and I was trying not to sign again."

She decided to renew the lease because she couldn’t find another apartment comparable to her two-bedroom unit.

Ferguson is one of many East Multnomah County residents facing the realities of the region’s affordable housing crisis.

Metro regional government answer to the crisis was by issuing a $652.8-million bond to fund affordable housing construction, which was approved by voters in the November 2018 election.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: MATT DEBOW – Penny Ferguson sits in the Troutdale apartment she has rented for 15 years. In her time leasing the apartment, her rent has more than doubled.

Multnomah County will receive the largest share of the bond funds, at approximately 45 percent. Washington County will follow with about 33 percent, and Clackamas County will receive around 21 percent.

The housing authorities in each county are expected to pledge to produce an equivalent share of the 3,900 affordable housing units expected to be supported by the bond. For Multnomah County, that will be approximately 1,755 units.

"Metro will be working with the partners in each county, but we’ll also be letting them collectively decide what’s the best distribution method to meet the needs of their county," said Jes Larson, Metro’s regional affairs manager.

The bond will cost property owners 24 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. That amounts to $60 a year for the owner of a home with an average assessed value of $250,000.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: MATT DEBOW – Apartments in Fairview are under construciton. A recently passed affordable housing bond will create more construction on affordable housing.

"All affordable homes created through the measure will be for households making 80 percent of median family income or less," according Metro’s bond proposal document.

A goal of the bond is for households renting the units to not spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent.

A few objections

While Metro regional government is touting the bond as a necessary solution to the housing crisis, a few East Multnomah County leaders don’t share the same enthusiasm.

Following a presentation by Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick and Metro’s Director of Government Affairs Andy Shaw to the Fairview City Council promoting the bond measure in May, Fairview City Councilor Mike Weatherby objected to the housing measure.

Weatherby said property tax increases could end up hurting those who are already pay a large portion of their income on rent.

"I’m more concerned than ever that this is extremely poor public policy," Weatherby said in a phone interview with The Outlook. "It doesn’t make sense to have taxes on people who are impoverished. It’s actually insulting to our citizens. I think we need affordable housing, but this is the wrong way to go about it."

A majority of Fairview councilors also disapprove of the bond measure.

At the council’s May meeting, Shaw said providing funding is the best way Metro could mitigate the affordable housing crisis.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE GRAPHIC – Portland has the most assessed value of any government within Metro and likely will receive most of the regional government’s affordable housing bond funds approved at the Nov. 6 general election. (Source: Metro), Portland Tribune – News Portland likely to get lion‚Äôs share of Metro cash for affordable units because it will easily contribute the largest amount. HOUSING FUNDS ON THE HORIZON

"One of the most helpful things the regional government could do is bring capital resources to construct homes," he said. "The biggest way Metro could step in is by providing funding."

Troutdale’s take

While the bond is a start at addressing the housing crisis, Troutdale is also examining the reasons behind the city’s high rents, and ways to encourage more affordable housing options.

Community Development Director Chris Damgen said Troutdale needs to conduct a housing needs analysis. The investigation will look into the root causes behind increasing rents.

The study will determine the best ways the city can encourage development of affordable housing and construction of housing that is affordable.

Damgen differentiated the terms "affordable housing" and "housing that is affordable" because affordable housing has income requirements, while housing that is affordable applies to anyone.

One way to encourage both development types would be for the city to pass inclusion-zoning requirements, which would force developers to reserve affordable housing units in every proposed development.

Another option could be in the form of density bonuses. Those bonuses would allow developers to build more units at a site than the zoning code allows — if the developer agrees to keep a certain number of units affordable.

One more tool to create more housing could be by expanding Troutdale’s urban growth boundary (UGB). If Troutdale asks for an expansion, and Metro approves the request, the city could allow housing development in what is currently farmland.

Metro controls the urban growth boundary, the invisible barrier around Portland’s suburbs beyond which urban development is not allowed.

UGB expansion requests from Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City and Wilsonville were recently approved by the regional government. The expansion will add 2,200 acres to accommodate 9,200 new homes in the Washington and Clackamas county cities.

A Troutdale UGB expansion had been discussed by Troutdale officials years ago, but that conversation languished, Damgen said. The affordable housing crisis has sparked a renewed interest in boundary expansion.

"The housing issue is the great motivator for re-examining that effort," he said.

Troutdale is not yet using inclusion-zoning, density bonuses or asking Metro to expand the UGB.

"Right now we don’t have anything in our wheelhouse to address the issue," Damgen said. "There’s not a silver bullet. What works for Gresham or Portland may not work for Troutdale, but we can’t ignore the issue any longer."

The first step in crafting a housing needs analysis was for Troutdale to host a community rent-burden meeting. The get-together gathered feedback from Troutdale citizens about the causes behind high rents.

Ferguson attended the community forum, and she told her story about rising rent. She said one reason for her rent increases is her apartment complex was sold twice in the 15 years she’s been renting there.

In a follow-up interview, Ferguson told The Outlook she didn’t know the right solution, but noted something must be done about the affordable housing crisis.

"As far as rent, there’s got to be a fix somehow because it’s making people homeless," Ferguson said. It’s making families have to move in together and be crowded; it’s making people unable to be self-sufficient such as the elderly that live on fixed incomes — or become homeless. Something’s got to give somewhere."

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