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Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Addressing the Need for Affordable Housing

Portland is experiencing growing pains. We have an incredible parks system, well-respected public schools, a strong business community, and each neighborhood in our city has its own unique character. The rest of the country has taken notice, and we have thousands of new Portlanders to show for it. On the one hand, our increased population means that we have attracted impressive talent that enhances our economy and universities, as well as our culinary and artistic communities. Our quality of life and corresponding prominence on the national stage are great for Portlanders. On the other hand, growth means that our housing market is stretched thin.

Portland will continue to grow over the next 20 years. We anticipate that 260,000 new residents will join the 620,000 Portlanders who live here today. Absent a significant increase in supply, that population growth will continue to drive up the cost of housing. This is a huge problem, especially for the most vulnerable people in our community.

Thousands of families are forced to move every year because of rent increases, and sometimes more than once. For example, consider a family that will have to move out when their rent increases from $800 dollars to $1,400. A family facing such a steep increase may not be able to afford to rent a new apartment in the same school district, so they need to pull their kids out of school, putting them behind.

Currently, tens of thousands of Portlanders spend at least 30% of their income on rent.  When a family pays more than 30% of their income on housing, they don’t have enough left over to afford other necessities like food, clothes, and medical expenses. In the city budget this year, Council made a significant commitment to housing with $29 million in new investments in housing and homeless services.  And now, we are taking action on more strategies to address homelessness as well as the need for affordable housing.

Last week, Council took a historic step and partnered with Multnomah County to create the Joint Office for Homeless Services. The agreement, which transfers existing City and County programs that address homelessness to the Joint Office, establishes a baseline funding commitment of $15 million a year each from the City and the County. By combining City and County resources and knowledge, we should be able to work more efficiently to help the 4,000 people who sleep on our streets each night.

I am excited about the potential success of this historic partnership.  However, I’m concerned that, based on the City’s budget this year, we are $3.5 million short of our $15 million commitment. To address this funding gap, I have proposed a Council work session in the fall to discuss strategies, and I am confident that we will prioritize resources for this important need. 

Yesterday, Council adopted a Construction Excise Tax (CET) on commercial and residential development as an additional revenue source for affordable housing for families who earn below 60% median family income (MFI). For years, we’ve been preempted by the Legislature from enacting construction excise taxes. This has been unfortunate since development has costs, and a construction excise tax can be a logical revenue source to help us pay for those costs. Thanks to the Legislature’s action earlier this year, we now have this tool in our toolbox, and I’m glad that’s the case. If this tax had been in place for the past five years, the Housing Bureau estimates that the CET would have raised about $8 million. Taking this step now will help prevent the continued displacement of low income families and people of color from our city.

I have heard loud and clear that Portlanders are feeling the effects of our tight housing market and that significant commitments from your government are important to you. Together, these actions demonstrate City Council’s commitment to addressing the housing crisis, and I’m proud to support them.