Tax season is upon us. With housing and homelessness top of mind for Oregonians in the Portland Metro Region, we wanted to take a moment to uplift one way local taxes are increasing affordable housing options in our cities.

In the last decade, the Welcome Home Coalition has supported three local tax ballot measures. Two of which ensure our region can construct new affordable housing. The third, along with funding other homeless services, allows our housing providers to pair affordable apartments with supportive services. Each of these public funds is made possible by local taxes. So, who pays these taxes? And, what impact does the money have?

In 2016 and 2018, voters across Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas Counties voted ‘Yes’ to two affordable housing bonds to bolster the construction of affordable multifamily apartments and single-family homes. These bonds are paid back over 20 years as a part of a homeowner’s total property tax. The cost to an average homeowner is around $100 annually, resulting in the creation of new affordable homes for an estimated 19,000 individuals. Currently, both bonds are on track to create as many as 800 more homes than initially promised to voters!

In 2020, our region passed a first-of-its-kind high-income earner tax to fund a diversity of services to support households exiting or at risk of experiencing homelessness. These services have been especially successful when paired with affordable housing. In all three metro counties, Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington, 98-99% of people living in Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) remained in their homes one or two years later. As far as cost to taxpayers, PSH is by far a more cost-effective strategy than jail time or emergency room services. Not only is PSH a proven and cost-effective model, but it also offers a true exit from chronic homelessness – permanent housing.

For some people exiting homelessness, older adults, or people experiencing disability living on fixed incomes, reduced rents, along with services are essential to access stable housing. Last year, these essential services were paid by around 60,000 single and joint tax filers and over 6,000 businesses in our region. That’s about 3% of our total population. This tax measure creates housing options that meet the real needs of people facing housing instability by asking those who can afford to pay to invest back into the livability of our region. The majority of jurisdictions nationally depend solely on limited federal funding to offer services and build affordable housing. We should be proud that we said yes to a solution beyond relying on the federal government.

Despite earning the title of one of the “Top 10 Least Regressive Tax States”, on the whole, Oregon’s tax system still leans more heavily on Oregon’s lowest-income residents. A recent report found that, on average, taxes in Oregon take up about 12 percent of the income of the lowest-earning Oregonians, compared to 9.7 percent of those at middle incomes, and 10.4 percent of the top 1 percent earners. 

Welcome Home strives to uplift policies that ultimately strengthen the health of our communities by championing public investments to expand affordable housing options. We are proud that these taxes are deployed to help households in need of support. With 50% of renters burdened by housing costs, without community investments in a diversity of housing options, we risk increasing the number of households who can no longer stay in their neighborhoods, school districts, or even indoors due to the burden of rising housing costs. 

For all our neighbors to have the opportunity to thrive in our region, we need all hands on deck. We must continue to opt into a diversity of solutions that strengthen our ecosystem of housing options. Thank you to those who continue to opt into long-term, quality solutions to address our affordable housing shortage.