It’s no secret that housing costs have soared throughout the Portland metro region in the past few years, creating tremendous burdens for working people and those with low or fixed incomes.
However, what is not as well known is that all of this could have been prevented years ago. And the same people who helped cause the problem are now actively campaigning for Measure 26-199, which would give them more of your money to bail them out for the bad decisions they made that now impact our most vulnerable residents.
Laws that are unique to Oregon limit the amount of land on which houses and businesses can be built. That amount of land can be expanded under certain circumstances and through public processes.
The Portland area’s Metro council had the opportunity to provide more buildable land for housing back in 2015 and engaged in a review process. As part of that process, the council heard from representatives of the industries that build housing. Those representatives testified that increased demand and lack of supply would make housing less affordable.
Their testimony was ultimately ignored, and in November 2015, the Metro council voted unanimously to refuse to allow more land to be used for housing. It was the first time in a decade that the council opted against doing so.
The decision was based on the assumption that the Portland region had what it needed to accommodate future growth. Metro’s in-house public relations team described it as a “nod to changing times in the area” and a “different approach to growth and the money that drives it.”
One Metro councilor, who still holds that position, stated that the body values “planning for growth versus ignoring it.” Another said, “there is no problem here to fix” and added that he thought the region was “doing a great job” of meeting its housing needs.
The council’s former and current president stated that there are a “number of explanations for how we’ve gotten to the place we are now” with regards to the lack of affordable housing in the region.
The fact that Metro is now seeking nearly $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to solve a problem that it arguably made worse should come as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention back then. Metro’s president stated in November 2015 that affordable housing is “…an area where…public resources will need to be focused on the future.”
All of this was verified in news articles covering the council’s decision. The Oregonian summarized Metro’s reasoning that the available land “provides sufficient opportunity for near-term development,” despite the growing, obvious and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The Portland Tribune wrote in an article dated November 11, 2015 that the council voted against more land for housing in the region “despite the fact that 400,000 more people are expected to live and work within it over the next 20 years.”
In short, Metro’s ill-conceived and expensive ballot Measure 26-199 only became necessary because of mistakes made by its council that were driven more by ideology than the realities of housing costs and their causes. Voters would be wise to reject Measure 26-199 and urge the Metro council to stop creating artificial shortages of land for housing that makes it more expensive for everyone.