Another Voice: Measure 102 adds bond strength to affordable housing goal

Working hard should mean you can afford to live in your community and keep a roof over your head. In communities throughout Oregon —and particularly here in Hood River — rent and housing costs have gone up faster than wages and families in our community are struggling to make ends meet.

The good news is that our community has come together to try provide safe and stable homes to our neighbors and families who need help.

Across Oregon, many private sector organizations provide safe, stable and affordable housing to members of our community. One example here in the Gorge is the Columbia-Cascade Housing Corporation.

I have worked for 25 years to create more affordable housing in Oregon, as the head of a housing nonprofit, director of a city housing bureau and as senior adviser to Senator Jeff Merkley. I know that pulling together the pieces to fund affordable housing requires a blending of many different funding sources, including voter-approved local bonds.

Currently, however, ownership restrictions on these bonds limit their value because it requires that the housing be owned by a governmental entity. This means that the bond dollars can’t be combined with other resources, like federal housing tax credits — thus reducing the amount of housing that can be built by as much as 50 percent.

Measure 102 would amend the state constitution to allow counties, cities and towns to — with voter approval — use bond revenue to fund the construction of affordable housing without necessarily retaining complete ownership of the constructed housing. Currently, the state constitution does not allow revenue from bond issues to be used in a project with private owners or stakeholders. Measure 102 was designed to provide an exception to this prohibition solely for the construction of affordable housing, thus getting the full value of the resources voters have approved for this purpose.

For years, communities across Oregon have used general obligation bonds to build roads, bridges, parks and courthouses. It makes sense that this type of infrastructure be owned by the government, but housing is different. Owning a housing complex requires interacting daily with tenants, submitting compliance reports to funders and managing regular maintenance of the property. Local government agencies are not typically equipped to undertake these tasks. Experienced nonprofit housing organizations do this on a daily basis, and can efficiently carry out this role under contract with local governments. Furthermore, they can leverage bond funding with loans and tax credits that increase the number of homes that can be built. Such housing would still be required to remain affordable for a period of three to six decades.

Measure 102 is not a partisan issue. Both the governor and her Republican challenger have endorsed the measure. It passed the Oregon legislature with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats. Many local chambers of commerce, who give a voice to the business sector, have also supported Measure 102.

We all know that the housing affordability problem in Oregon has reached crisis levels. I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that everyone in our state has a decent place to call home.

When Oregon voters pass a bond to build housing in one of our communities, they should be able to get maximum value for their investment. To maximize the effectiveness of voter-approved housing bonds, please join me in voting yes on Measure 102.

Will White lives in Mosier. He has served as Senior Advisor to Senator Merkley and Director of the Portland Housing Bureau.

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