Portland Region Voters Approve a Tax on Wealthy Households to Fund Homeless Services

The $250 million-a-year measure aims to end chronic homelessness.

Tents near the grain elevators on the Willamette River. (Brian Burk)

By a sizable margin in early returns, regional voters appear to have passed a groundbreaking three-county tax on high-income households and businesses to fund services for homeless people.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the Portland economy, Measure 26-210 was projected to raise $2.5 billion with a 1 percent marginal tax on couples earning more than $200,000 and a 1 percent tax on profits for large businesses.

Business groups and nonprofits that serve the homeless became unbeatable allies, first in forcing the regional government to refer the measure, even after they were initially rebuffed, and again when the Metro Council appeared poised to refer a more modest measure.

Even in the face of the pandemic, the region was filled with lawn signs that read "We are all here together." The campaign was very visible, with 5,000 lawn signs and 2,000 posters. (The campaign also said it made 13,010 phone calls.)

It's a message that resonated in the pandemic.

Lawyer Bob Stoll announced the apparent victory at 8:16 pm: "According to AP, we've won."

"We are up 64-36 in Multnomah County," political consultant Kevin Looper said. "That will carry the day. There's no reason for anything other than confidence and optimism based on those numbers."

Katrina Holland, executive director of nonprofit JOIN, was joined by her daughter who clapped to the results as she cheered.

Gov. Kate Brown, who joined the massive Zoom call to celebrate the measure's passage, singled out the campaign's name for praise.

"To choose the name 'HereTogether,' are you kidding me?" she said. Brown also praised former state Sen. Chip Shields as a "true hero" for donating more than $300,000 of his own money. He offered a salute while he sipped what appeared to be white wine from his home.

The measure follows in the footsteps of previous voter-approved bond measures to build affordable housing—Metro's measure in 2018 and Portland's in 2016.

This measure is designed to fund addiction treatment and mental health services as well as pay rent subsidies. It's not clear yet how much will be spent on which items. Those decisions lie ahead in the three counties where voters passed the tax: Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas.

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