Oregon Ballot Measure to Fix Housing Finance Prohibition Passes First Milestone

Oregon Department of Justice issues ballot title for measure that would allow local governments to leverage housing dollars.

A Home First construction project in East Portland. (Christine Dong)

The Oregon Department of Justice this week published the proposed ballot title for a likely statewide measure that would increase public funding for affordable housing.

Currently, the city of Portland and most local jurisdictions in Oregon cannot leverage the proceeds of bonds to increase the supply of housing.

Here's what that means in real terms: In 2016, Portland voters approved a $258 million housing bond to build new affordable housing or purchase existing units. Under current law, the city must own projects financed by that bond and cannot leverage other key funding sources, including some private dollars.

So during the short February legislative session, lawmakers passed House Joint Resolution 201 and referred to voters a measure that would allow leverage and public-private partnerships financed in part with bond proceeds.

The measure drew widespread support, including an enthusiastic endorsement from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and his city council colleagues.

"HJR 201 will help address the enormous community need for affordable housing throughout Oregon," said Feb. 2 written testimony signed by all five council members.

Getting a clear, non-threatening ballot title is critical to success for ballot measures.

Here's what the DOJ proposes:

"Amends Constitution: Allows local bonds for financing affordable housing with nongovernmental entities. Requires voter approval, annual audits."

There was little opposition to the measure in the legislature. It passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 24 to five.

Comments on the ballot title—a forum for critics to make themselves known—are due by April 16.

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