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Local leaders don’t look to jump at housing bond measure right away

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on November 7, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on November 7, 2018 9:34PM

Unfinished homes are nearing completion in the Sunridge housing development on August 15, 2017 in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Unfinished homes are nearing completion in the Sunridge housing development on August 15, 2017 in Pendleton.

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On a night when four other statewide ballot measures failed to muster enough support to pass, Oregon voters approved the less contentious Measure 102.

Supporters believe the measure will make it easier to build affordable housing through public-private partnerships, although local leaders aren’t champing at the bit to implement it in their housing-strapped communities.

Megan Wever, the pro-Measure 102 campaign’s communications manager, explained that the measure makes a “small amendment” to the Oregon Constitution that allows cities, counties, and other local governments to seek a bond for affordable housing that’s partially or wholly owned by a private entity like a business or nonprofit.

“It really opens the door to considering a bond,” she said.

Oregon law previously required all housing projects financed through a bond to be publicly owned. Wever said Measure 102 not only removes this requirement but also makes business and nonprofits eligible for public grants.

She added that this kind of set-up can actually make the public’s dollar stretch further with a housing bond.

On the same night Oregon voters approved Measure 102, Portland-area voters approved a $253 million housing bond. Now that the bond is paired with Measure 102, Weber said the housing developments created under the bond will serve 12,000 people instead of 7,500.

While Measure 102 peels away a layer of regulation for what a bond can be spent on, Wever said voters would still need to pass it in an election before it could go into effect.

Additionally, the local government that sponsored the bond would be required to release regular audits and reports that update the public on how the money’s being spent.

While most of the organizations and elected officials who supported Measure 102 come from the Portland metro area, Wever said the measure could be a boon to Eastern Oregon as well.

Unlike Portland, she said, rural communities don’t have the resources to create and maintain a housing bureau. Wever said this measure would make it easier for a smaller city or county to partner with an outside agency to get housing done.

Although the measure passed statewide 56.7 percent to 43.3 percent, it failed in Umatilla County and Morrow County, according to unofficial results.

Pendleton Mayor John Turner, the chairman of the city housing committee, said he would need to do more research before he could weigh in on whether a housing bond would be an option for the city.

Although he’s seen public-private partnerships that have worked, Turner said he was wary of directing public money through a bond to a private development.

He said that the city’s homebuilding market is already starting to pick up, so a bond might not be necessary.

Even though Hermiston also suffers from a housing shortage, Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan couldn’t see Hermiston jumping on a housing bond either.

Morgan said that if a developer wanted the city to pursue it, city officials would explore their options. Otherwise, the city will continue to go through its usual process when trying to help developers make their projects feasible.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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