By David Pendered
Voters in Oregon face a ballot initiative Tuesday that represents the stuff of dreams for some advocates of affordable housing in Georgia – a proposal that is to produce more bang for each buck of public investment in homes affordable to those earning the salaries of schoolteachers.
To put Oregon’s proposal in perspective: If it passes, the $652.8 million housing bond that’s on the ballot in Portland could create up to 4,000 affordable units. Under current law, Portland’s bond package would build about 2,400 units, according to a report by opb.org, the state’s public broadcast affiliate.
For Georgia’s housing advocates, it’s not just that the housing proposal is on the ballot in Oregon. And it’s not relevant that the Oregon concept probably couldn’t be replicated in Georgia – it likely wouldn’t apply to Georgia.
The point is that Oregon’s backers of affordable housing have been able to muscle the issue into statewide conversation, onto the statewide ballot and into the gubernatorial campaign.
Both the Democratic incumbent governor and Republican challenger support the ballot initiative, according to a separate report by opb.org. The independent candidate says his primary concern is campaign finance reform.
This support from the two leading candidates results from the support that housing advocates have been able to galvanize for the issue. Housing costs simply have reached that point, according to a report by opb.org:
- “For years, it was local cities and counties that tackled housing issues. But now, the situation is so severe that for the first time in recent memory, one of the central debates in the gubernatorial race is how to fix the growing housing and homelessness emergency.”
The current wave started when advocates of affordable housing were able gain significant traction in Oregon’s Legislature. They convinced state lawmakers to reach an agreement on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution. Backers think the resulting change will help boost the creation of affordable housing – whether by revamping existing housing units or building new ones.
Measure 102 is the result of the legislative compromise.
If approved, local governments would more easily be able to establish partnerships with non-profit organizations or developers on projects the governmental entities don’t fully own. In turn, these partnerships could use federal tax credits on housing projects funded with revenue from bonds sold by the local government.
Measure 102 would accomplish this outcome by eliminating a restriction in the state Constitution that requires local governments to retain total ownership of affordable housing projects they fund with municipal bonds, according to a description on ballotpedia.org.
In metro Atlanta, the issue of affordable housing is percolating at the level of local governments. In a significant move, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appointed a chief housing officer in October, a step encouraged by HouseATL, a group of civic leaders gathered with support from ULI Atlanta, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Central Atlanta Progress, Center for Civic Innovation, and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
HouseATL is focused on the City of Atlanta and has devised an approach for defining the issue and solutions in the city. To date, the focus has been on creating the structures necessary to deploying resources that are to be gathered.
Meantime, state law hasn’t changed in years in terms of the city’s Urban Residential Finance Authority, according to the relevant state code that opens at this site, Title 36, Chapter 41. It may be that certain provisions could be altered in order to help raise the $500 million in public resources House ATL envisions as part of a total $1 billion funding package for affordable housing.
For instance, state law requires that revenue bonds be repaid within 40 years when they are dedicated to a purpose involving the, “acquisition, financing, construction, and rehabilitation of residential housing.” This and other regulations regarding terms of bonds could be considered as city officials contemplate the $250 million bond package cited among the HouseAtl recommendations.