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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.