Parks bond stall raises questions for housing levy

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

On April 14, City Commissioner Nick Fish and the Parks Bureau’s director, Zari Santner, announced that a $200 million bond measure for capital improvements to Portland’s parks would not be put on the November ballot for voter approval.

The recession, in a memo to Parks Bureau staff, was cited as the reason. “The economic climate makes it too difficult to successfully move forward with a bond measure at this time,” the memo said.

The bond measure was two years in the planning and considered a much-needed solution to improving the infrastructure of Portland’s parks, which staff admit are in dire need of it. The bond, says Parks Bureau public information officer Beth Sorensen, also may have paid for the construction of a community center in inner Southeast Portland. That is an area of Portland currently without a community center. “It’s disappointing,” Sorensen says of the delay.

The memo said it is not a matter of “if, but when” the bond measure will be put on a future ballot. In an e-mail to Street Roots, Fish said, “It will go on the ballot as soon as possible.” Fish, who is the commissioner-in-charge of both the Parks and Housing Bureaus, would not be more precise about a date.

The bond’s delay and the recession’s role in that delay brings to the fore concerns for housing advocates who want to see a levy paying for housing for homeless or low-income renters. One of the worries advocates spearheading levy or bond campaigns frequently have is how their levy or bond will perform if the ballot is crowded with multiple bonds or levies that would raise property taxes.

Beginning in January, a group of housing advocates, including Street Roots and policy makers, including Fish and County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, has been meeting regularly to explore the potential support of a housing levy.

In a speech given at the outreach agency JOIN’s grand opening at its new location on April 16, Fish said that Kafoury is taking the lead on that campaign.

Kafoury did not return a call to Street Roots by press time.

“No decisions have been made,” Fish said, regarding how much money will be requested or what the money would be used for, although construction for affordable housing and possibly funds dedicated to bolstering Multnomah County’s mental health system are candidates.

A levy would generate revenue through property taxes, collecting a certain amount of money per $1,000 of assessed property. Bonds raise revenue by borrowing against the future, essentially. Any revenue raised through bonds must be paid back by revenue generated through future taxes. Bonds have certain limitations, including a limitation that the money can be spent only on capital projects by publicly owned entities.

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