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121114-cgt-nws-housing-development-02-ac (copy)

The 16-unit apartment complex is scheduled for completion in April or May.

Measure 102, which would allow local governments in Oregon to partner with nongovernmental entities in order to build affordable housing, hasn't gotten a lot of ink thus far in this year's election cycle.

And, frankly, it probably won't — not with other hot-button issues such as abortion and immigration and taxation on November's ballot, not to mention a tight race for the governor's mansion.

But it would be a mistake to overlook the measure, which seeks to amend Oregon's constitution to unlock an additional tool to help the state deal with its affordable housing crisis.

Measure 102 was referred to the state's voters by the Legislature, which approved the measure on a vote that drew support from both sides of the aisle. 

No one doubts the need for more affordable housing in Oregon. One promising way for local governments to develop that housing is through collaborations with private businesses and established nonprofit organizations such as the mid-valley's Willamette Valley Housing Services.

But the Oregon Constitution presents a significant roadblock to these potential partnerships: It prohibits most local governments from raising money for, lending to or investing in a private company, corporation or other nongovernmental entity.

Measure 102 amends the constitution to create an exception for affordable housing. If voters approve the measure, it would allow local governments to use bond proceeds to lend money to, invest in or pay those other entities for the capital costs to buy or build affordable housing. 

Passage of Measure 102 would not by itself raise anyone's taxes. In fact, the measure requires that local governments proposing bond measures for affordable housing get voter approval — and it insists that those local governments describe the affordable housing that would be bought or built with the proceeds. The only bonds eligible for the exemption would be those paid from new property taxes upon voter approval. But no one's property taxes would increase unless local voters approved a bond measure to help pay for a specific affordable housing project.

Some of the criticism of Measure 102 revolves around the fact that it does not in itself define "affordable housing." But this is a designation that each community must work out for itself: Surely an affordable housing project in Portland will be very different than one proposed for Sweet Home or Philomath. It's best that the measure push this definition down to the local level.

The measure also imposes a cap on each government's total bonded indebtedness for capital costs of affordable housing: It cannot exceed 0.5 percent of the real market value of all property in the local government. 

Now, you might be thinking that some of these public-private partnerships involving the state of Oregon haven't worked out so well in the past: Just think, for example, of the mess that followed in the wake of the state's business energy tax credits. It's a legitimate worry.

But Measure 102 also requires that any affordable housing bonds approved by voters are subject to annual audits and reporting, so citizens and taxpayers can keep a sharp eye out for potential boondoggles in the making. 

No one thinks that Measure 102 is the one-stop cure for all of Oregon's affordable housing woes; the problem is too severe, too widespread, to lend itself to one single solution. But one way to address the problem is to identify and sweep away barriers that no longer seem to serve any useful purpose. That's part of what Measure 102 would do.

The measure also would encourage the sort of innovative collaboration that could, over the long run, make a big difference in creating affordable housing options throughout the state. The measure comes with a little bit of risk, but the payoff for Oregon residents struggling to find a place to live could be huge. We recommend a "yes" vote on Measure 102. (mm)

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