City of Portland Wants to Change the Oregon State Constitution to Build Housing

The Oregon House is likely to pass the bill related to the Portland housing bond; there's a question in the Senate.

(Daniel Stindt)

A bill being pushed by Portland City Hall to help build affordable housing made it through its first hurdle of the state legislative session, but its success is not yet assured.

City Hall is pushing for changes to the state constitution to allow the funds from  Portland's affordable housing bond to be matched with existing sources of funding for affordable housing.

The change would allow bonds to be matched with the major source of affordable housing money: federal low-income tax credits.

Currently, projects built from each of those pools of money must remain separate. That's because the state constitution requires cities to maintain ownership of any properties built with bond money while the federal program dictates private ownership.

City Council is asking for a law change so the two pots of money can mix.

"Allowing local governments to leverage general obligation bond proceeds, such as the $258.4 million affordable housing bond approved by Portland voters in 2016, will increase the financing available for affordable housing and maximize overall resources," wrote Mayor Ted Wheeler and all four city commissioners in a Feb. 2 letter to Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, chair of the House Committee On Human Services and Housing, which is sponsoring the bill.

The change would also help Metro Council, which is considering putting a housing bond on the November ballot.

The House bill, which would refer the state constitutional amendment to voters in November, had a first hearing this week and is scheduled for a work session on Tuesday, meaning it's still alive this session.

The House is expected to pass the bill. But it's not clear yet whether it will make it through the Senate.

The bill will have little time: It's a short session. But Senate President Peter Courtney—who controls what emerges from the upper chamber—does not yet have a position on the bill.

"The Senate President is aware of the bill and hopes to learn more about the proposal when it comes over from the House," says Courtney's spokesman, Robin Maxey.

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