In December, the Portland City Council voted 4-1 to dedicate at least $1.2 million annually in lodging taxes from short-term rentals, which includes about 2,500 apartments, condominiums and homes listed on Airbnb, to the city’s Housing Investment Fund (HIF). Members of City Council cited the nexus between the lack of available, affordable housing and the loss of housing stock as short-term rentals, as well as the urgency to act in light of Portland’s skyrocketing rental market.
Administered by the Portland Housing Bureau, the HIF is used in combination with revenues generated by Portland Tax Increment Funding (TIF) affordable housing set aside, as well as Federal CDBG and HOME funds to build and preserve affordable rental and ownership housing, primarily through low-interest loans. The City Council established the HIF in 1995 as a means to achieve the City’s housing goals as established in the Metro 2040 plan, a growth strategy document, by providing gap financing for housing projects that fulfilled the goals of the Livable City Housing Initiatives. As Portland’s housing goals and priority initiatives have shifted over the past two decades, the HIF has been sufficiently flexible to meet the changing demands, including HIF’s current use to fund housing in high opportunity areas with access to jobs, transportation, high performing schools and other areas, and to preserve affordability in areas at risk of gentrification-fueled displacement.
The dedication of the funds to HIF is one of several measures taken by City Council since the Portland Mayor declared a Homeless State of Emergency in early September. In November, the City Council raised the percentage of the TIF affordable housing set aside from 30% to 45% of urban renewal funds, and granted additional money to the Housing Bureau.
Celebrating the actions of City Council is the Welcome Home Coalition, formed to advocate for new funding to build back Portland’s affordable housing infrastructure. Welcome Home has been urging City Council to dedicate at least $50 million annually to meet Portland’s housing need. According to Jes Larson, Welcome Home’s director, dedicating revenue to the HIF, and other revenue commitments by City Council are significant initial actions. “We need City Council to do everything in its power to create affordable housing,” said Larson. “We applaud plans to establish a density bonus incentive for developments that include affordable apartments and the creation of a linkage fee. We also believe that in order to provide sufficient affordable housing, more work needs to be done, including taking a housing funding measure to Multnomah County voters in 2016.”
In November 2014 Welcome Home released a revenue study that researched what funding mechanisms other jurisdictions were dedicating to local housing trust funds, how much revenue each mechanism yielded and an analysis of whether enacting the mechanism was legally permissible under local and state law. As a result of the study, members of the Welcome Home coalition and elected officials from Portland and Multnomah County are exploring additional potential funding measures, including either a levy or general obligation bond, both of which would require voter approval.
Gearing up for an advocacy push in 2016, Welcome Home has been actively building the membership in the coalition, boasting 113 endorsing organizations, ranging from nonprofit housing and homeless service providers to neighborhood associations to faith communities to social justice organizations. The coalition has also conducted public opinion research to develop key messages for supporters and launched the Leadership Academy to train spokespeople for the campaign. “There are a lot of people in Portland that share our vision of a community that invests in safe, stable, affordable homes for all,” said Larsen. “The role of Welcome Home is organizing those people so we win big together, and start providing the housing our communities need.”
For more information about the HIF, contact Martha Calhoon, Public Information Officer at (503) 823-3239 or Martha.firstname.lastname@example.org.