In an about-face, the Metro Council may refer a measure funding homeless services to the ballot—for this May.

That decision by the Portland-area government would place a tax measure as large as $300 million a year before voters in three counties, less than four months from now. That's a remarkably short time to iron out details and wrangle support.

It's also the result of a tussle between housing advocates and local governmental officials for much of this winter.

In December, Metro told a coalition of advocates called Here Together that it was reluctant to refer a homeless services measure to the November 2020 ballot. (Metro has been working toward a $3 billion transportation measure for the November ballot.)

The Dec. 10 letter from Metro said the ballot initiative would require $1.3 million and nine months to two years' of preparation.

Now, Metro would refer the measure in a month's time.

"The Metro Council has been clear that this is a crisis that needs attention as soon as possible," says Metro Council spokesperson Nick Christensen. "Last week, after a tour of service providers including Stone Soup, Central City Concern and Bud Clark Commons, Council President [Lynn] Peterson presented staff and her fellow councilors with a potential option for a May 2020 ballot measure that could meet the Metro Council's needs for quick action, real outcomes and fiscal responsibility. In the coming weeks, the Metro Council and Metro staff will be working intensely with our partners to find a path toward success, with the hopes of referring a measure for the May 2020 ballot."

Previously advocates had thought they would need to gather signatures themselves.

One of the leading officials backing the measure welcomed Metro's decision to pursue a May referral.

"We have a lot work to do in the next month," says Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. "I welcome Metro's involvement; we were thinking we were going to have to do a citizen initiative."

Kafoury cautioned that "the details matter" and "there are a lot of details that have to be worked out."

This would make homeless services the first tax measure to go before voters this year, cutting in front of what is expected to be a crowded November ballot, which is expected to bring out more left-wing voters and therefore a more favorable ballot for a tax measure.

Other local tax measures expected in November include the transportation measure, Portland Public Schools' school bond and a Multnomah County universal preschool measure.

"We are going to have put things in overdrive," says Kafoury. "It's the number one priority for people in the Metro region."