Tag Archives: housing levy

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. Continue reading

Director’s Desk: Working on the big picture

By Israel Bayer

It’s no secret that Street Roots and  fellow grassroots community organizations have stepped up their focus to organize for additional revenue steams for housing. We happen to believe that a housing levy — either this year or shortly after, is a must have for the community.

In a time when the dismal economy continues to lag on, and more people continue to fall into poverty and homelessness — if Portland and the region doesn’t think big, we will continue to face more and more people sleeping in doorways and under bridges.

Beyond being a humanitarian crisis, without adequate resources, the rise in homelessness leads to more and more compounded problems that are products of homelessness itself; violence, addiction, tension. Law enforcement, neighborhoods and businesses become frustrated and seek short-term approaches that often times rely less on solutions and more on moving people around. It’s a quagmire and one that has been playing out on the streets since the mid-90s in Portland. We have to get over the hump, one way or another. Continue reading

SR explores affordable housing revenue options

Pulling together funding for a housing development affordable for low-income families has always meant navigating a checkerboard of options, oftentimes involving up to 20 sources, each with its own set of obligations and limitations. None of which, even in tandem, mean a project will pencil out to fruition.

Until last year, there was no sustainable statewide funding channel for affordable housing maintenance or development. That was when the Oregon Legislature passed the document-recording fee, which levied a small fee for filing certain documents toward a fund for low-income housing. It is a sustained source, but far from the panacea of revenue needed to ensure that all income levels can afford a place to live.

Now there’s a new undercurrent running through the affordable housing community, civic leaders and advocates, on how to tackle the region’s housing crisis – a crisis that has one that has one in four Oregonians pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent, and studies concluding that an estimated 20,000 of affordable units – affordable for individuals and families below the poverty line – will be needed before the end of this decade. The discussion centers on the potential for a housing levy that could bring in millions of dollars toward sustaining the region’s affordable housing infrastructure, and ensuring that low-income families can afford a safe and stable place to live. (The Portland metro area is peppered with about 70 myriad taxing districts, none of which dedicate any significant funding for affordable housing.)

It’s not an uncommon approach from a national perspective. Nearly three decades ago, Seattle voters launched a legacy of supporting affordable housing, approving one bond and four levies to fund more than 10,000 affordable units for the formerly homeless, seniors and low-income individuals and families. It has also provided down payment loans for first-time homebuyers and rental assistance for thousands of households struggle to keep pace with rates.

Seattle’s approach is not the only progressive way to address livability; others include establishing local trust funds and issuing groundbreaking bonds. Here’s rundown of what other states have pursued to correct a nationwide imbalance between economic breakdowns and housing needs:

– Rhode Island: Looking down a 13,000 affordable unit shortfall, the Rhode Island legislature put the state’s first ever bond issue for housing on the November ballot. It passed by the largest margin nationally for a housing bond, raising $50 million in seed money to create 1,000 affordable housing homes over the next four years.

– California: In 2004, voters passed Proposition 63 to create the California Chronic Homeless Initiative and the Mental Health Services Act. The measure opened the door for the Department of Mental Health to provide increased funding, personnel, and other resources to support county mental health programs and monitor progress toward statewide goals for children, transition age youth, adults, older adults, and families.  Funds for the Act are collected annually through a 1 percent income tax increase on all individuals making over $1 million a year. The Act addresses a broad continuum of prevention, early intervention, and service needs and the necessary infrastructure, technology, and training elements that will effectively support this system and proposes up to $75 million a year for housing programs.

– Illinois: The Illinois Rental Housing Support program is the nation’s largest state rental assistance program, providing rent subsidies for an estimated 4,000 “rent burdened” households making ends meet on extremely low incomes. The program’s funding – provided by a $10 fee on real estate document recordings, is distributed through Local Administration Agencies that work directly with landlords to provide units for the program and possible outreach to tenants in need.

– Vermont: The longest standing trust fund is Vermont’s Housing and Conservation Trust Fund. In 1987 the Vermont Legislature created a Housing and Conservation Trust Fund that makes loans and grants to municipalities, nonprofits, housing co-ops, and qualifying state agencies for permanent affordable housing and permanently protected open space and/or projects that combine the two. As of 1997, 4,523 units of permanently affordable rental and owner-occupied housing has been developed through the Fund.

– New Jersey Special Needs Housing Trust Fund: In 2005 the New Jersey State Legislature passed the Special Needs Housing Trust Fund Act to create a housing trust fund from proceeds from motor vehicle surcharges securitization bonds. The fund helps create additional units of permanent supportive housing and community residences through new construction or rehabilitation; and helps support the long-term viability of such housing and residential opportunities for individuals with special needs with priority given to individuals with mental illness.

– Chicago: The Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund was created in 1989 by the Chicago City Council. It assists residents living in poverty, with incomes not exceeding 30 percent of area median income, by providing rent subsidies, supportive housing and upfront investments for longer term affordability. The Trust Fund serves Chicago’s low-income working households, the disabled, the elderly, and countless homeless individuals and families.

– Ashland Ore.: The city of Ashland established its Housing Trust Fund in 2008 as a dedicated source of revenue to provide ongoing funding for housing projects, or programs, that address the housing needs of Ashland residents. The fund’s primary purpose is encouraging the creation of housing for homeownership or rent at a cost that will enable low- and moderate- income families to afford quality housing while paying no more than 30 percent of gross household income on housing.

– The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust: The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust was created in 1993 by the Board of County Commissioners to fund the Community Homeless Plan.  The Trust’s annual budget is approximately $40 million, comprised of a local food and beverage proceeds from a 1 percent tax, as well as federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and state funding. Approximately $20 million per year comes through a competitive process through HUD; $12 million via the Food and Beverage tax, and the remainder through State funding and private sector contributions. The trust receives no general fund dollars from the county.

Source: Various city and state sources, The Corporation for Supportive Housing.

by Staff Reporters

Seattle councilman talks with SR of the will and way of a housing levy

From the Dec. 13 edition.

Nick Licata is a Seattle City Councilman, and one of Seattle’s champions for affordable housing and civil rights for people experiencing homelessness and poverty. He’s been a Seattle Council member for 12 years. In 2010, he is poised to be the Council Chair for the Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee for the City of Seattle.

Licata’s work on the homeless front has helped shape the attitude the general public in Seattle has toward low-income residents and people sleeping on the streets — to the point of overwhelmingly renewing a housing levy this April (63 percent) that brought a wealth of resources to the city government for affordable housing and homelessness. Over the course of a little more than a year, a team of foundations, businesses, non-profits and individuals raised nearly $350,000 for the housing levy. The return was $147 million over seven years. (See Push for housing levy coming from the grassroots, Street Roots Nov. 27).

We recently asked Nick how it’s done.

Nick Licata: There is a great deal of energy needed to begin a planning process about a year before the levy is put on the ballot. The city government must be involved and must play a major role in bringing various members of Seattle’s communities together to discuss the possibility of pursuing a levy. The process takes on the following steps:

The effort to create an affordable housing levy usually begins with a city department beginning the plan for such an effort. For instance, the Office of Housing began planning for a housing levy renewal in 2008. The planning process included work by a technical advisory committee and a steering committee, as well as a public open house to discuss proposed Seattle housing levy programs and previous levy successes, as well as current and future housing needs in Seattle.

The Steering Committee was convened by the Seattle Office of Housing to review the proposed 2009 Seattle Housing Levy packages and make a recommendation to the mayor. The committee was co-chaired by former mayors Norm Rice and Charles Royer and composed of representatives from local non-profit housing developers, banks and lenders, unions, attorneys, philanthropy and businesses.

The Office of Housing also created a Technical Advisory Committee to provide advice and feedback to the Office of Housing regarding options for funding programs in the 2009 Housing Levy. The committee was a diverse group consisting of nonprofit and for profit housing developers, lenders, service providers, and representatives of business, labor, environmental and philanthropic organizations. (They met four times between September and October 2008.)

Aside from these two committees, the Office of Housing also wanted to better understand Seattle residents’ overall attitudes about the importance of low-income housing assistance compared to other city priorities; perceptions of the benefits of low-income housing assistance to the wider community; and the impact of the current economic climate on attitudes about these programs and on residents’ willingness to continue funding them through a housing levy. In March 2009, EMC Research conducted a telephone survey of 800 Seattle residents. Continue reading

County’s Kafoury looks into leading charge for housing levy

From the Dec. 13 edition.

Talks expected on potential of 2010 ballot proposal

Street Roots reported in last week’s “Housing advocates consider push for housing levy” that County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury expressed strong interest in seeing something similar to Seattle’s Housing Levy on the ballot in 2010.

In an hour-long interview with Street Roots last week, she did not back down.

Kafoury says she is still interested in actively pursuing putting a bond or levy that would generate revenue for affordable housing on the ballot in 2010.

And if advocates came to Kafoury asking to be the politician leading the charge for a bond of levy campaign, Kafoury said she would be interested in hearing what they had to say.

“I’d say let’s sit and talk,” Kafoury says. Continue reading

Levy, bond: The time is right to make a bold move

For two consecutive editions of the newspaper Street Roots has called for a housing levy or bond in the Portland region.

Also read: Region must work for affordable housing levy from the Nov 13. issue, and Push for housing levy coming from the grassroots by Amanda Waldroupe.

It’s time to stand up for affordable housing and homeless services in Oregon.

It’s not just about the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in the region, it’s not that simple — it’s much bigger picture than this.

Oregon, like many states around the country is not recovering as quickly as projected from the impact of the recession, far from it.

The unemployment rate in both Portland and around the state continues to hover in the double digits, while estimated hunger rates in the state have skyrocketed. This month U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that more than one in eight Oregon households have struggled to put food on the table over the past two years.

But it’s not enough to say that people are becoming homeless at alarming rates, or that the current economical environment hasn’t affected every sector of our society.

Common folks across the board are dealing with a combination of shaky predictions and risky outcomes that affect the future of their workplaces and families livelihoods.

The combination of job loss and the complex revenue streams that create affordable housing in Oregon has led to serious strains on our system. We would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t recognize as a community that some of those infrastructures are on the verge of breaking — the affordable housing and homeless front is one of them. Which in good times only affects a smaller portion of society, but in today’s climate, affects everyone.

Through our news coverage, Street Roots is able to connect with a spectrum of the nonprofit, foundational and government sectors along with people who are relying on these networks, for its sources. And we’re not hearing good news.

In fact, from everything we’re hearing, unless there’s a cataclysmic turn of events, 2010 is going to be a very hard year for many nonprofits working with people in poverty, and some will fall over.

That’s exactly why right now is the perfect time to build a movement across class lines, and tailored interests for not only an affordable housing stream locally, but nationally as well.

It’s a given that locally we need a bond or a levy for affordable housing for many people to survive. The question is where will the leadership and the funding for such an endeavor come from? Beyond housing and homeless advocates, it will take a broad base of labor, business, and government support to make a bond or a levy successful. It won’t be easy.

Nationally, housing and homeless advocates along the West Coast are standing up in unison to demand that Federal funding for housing and homelessness be returned to its rightful state — $54 billion short of what we spent on housing in 1979. (See page 12).

While many groups are standing up and pushing these ideas, many more stay out of the fight when it comes to building a larger movement for affordable housing and homelessness, and having these kinds of discussions out in the open. We think those times have changed, and it’s time to build a movement that supports all of our needs, as a community and as a society.

Creating a lasting revenue stream locally and restoring federal funding at the national level are the most critical steps we can take to make this dream a reality. Until then, we are fighting a losing war.


Editorial: Region must work for housing levy

Ever wonder why so many people are experiencing homelessness in Portland, or why the panhandling debate never seems to die? It most certainly has something to do with the economy, but it also has something to do with the lack of ongoing revenue and affordable housing units available to low-income working people.

Our sister city to the north, Seattle, just overwhelmingly passed (63 percent) a housing levy for $145 million over a seven year period. Most of the levy, $104 million, will go toward producing and preserving 1,670 apartments for low-income individuals, while another $4 million will go to more than 3,000 individuals and families in need of rent assistance.

It doesn’t stop there. More than $6 million will go towards purchasing land for affordable housing, with $14 million going toward operations and maintenance for affordable rental units and another $9 million going for homebuyer’s assistance.

The levy not only provides homes for people experiencing homelessness and poverty, it also goes to create an ongoing revenue stream for jobs and construction projects in the region.

All for $17 per $100,000 of assessed property value annually. That means for most Portland homeowners, they would be contributing $34 to $68. That might be the same amount you find yourself donating to a local non-profit to help feed, cloth or house an individual. Why not put that money toward something that will house thousands of people?

Street Roots realizes there are barriers both locally and at a state level concerning the tax structures and how money will be allocated. We also realize there are many competing interests, ranging from the schools to human services and the arts. At the end of the day, all of these things – schools, human services and the arts would benefit from a revenue stream dedicated to improving the quality of life by providing a warm and safe place for individuals and families to call home.

The region has excellent leadership at a government level when it comes to helping secure funding for people experiencing homelessness and poverty. In the past year, both city and county government have been engaged at one level or another in helping maintain our fragile safety net for the area’s poor. They’ve done more with less and should be commended for their efforts.

In a time when unemployment rates, hunger and homelessness are at an all-time high both locally and throughout Oregon – we have a responsibility to help maintain the basic needs of our citizens – not just this year, but for many years to come.

The recent passing of the housing levy in Seattle gives us hope. Hope that even in hard times people can pull together and find a way to do the right thing – even if that means paying $17 to $100 a year for the areas most vulnerable citizens.

Street Roots believes the political will exists to pass a levy or a tax locally for affordable housing. We’re hoping that together as a community, we can make that happen in 2010.