Voters OK Affordable Housing Measures

By: - November 7, 2018 12:00 am

A man sits with his son and a sign asking for money near an upscale hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. Voters in Oregon and seven other states considered measures designed to boost the construction of affordable housing. Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press

This story is part of Stateline’s midterm election coverage.

Voters in California and Oregon yesterday approved statewide measures to funnel more money toward the construction of affordable housing, while voters in Berkeley, California; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Denver and other cities cleared local initiatives with similar goals.

But California voters decisively defeated a high-profile affordable housing measure that would have expanded rent control in the state.

Overall, voters in eight states weighed state or local housing measures that would clear the way for the construction of affordable housing or expand protections for renters. Under most of the measures, cities would rely on bonds and targeted tax increases to fund affordable housing.

The relatively large number of housing measures on the ballot this year reflects a national sense of urgency amid rising housing costs, housing analysts say. A lack of federal action and cash-strapped state and local budgets have contributed to the crisis. Citizens are showing up at town halls and city council meetings demanding action, they say.

Nationwide, housing is at its least affordable in more than a decade, based on the percentage of income needed to buy a median-priced home, according to a June report by ATTOM Data Solutions, which tracks real estate data. A 2017 analysis by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that nearly half of renters were cost-burdened, which means they spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

High construction costs, a shortage of private low-cost housing and restrictive zoning laws have resulted in more people competing for an increasingly limited share of rental housing.

Much of the housing-related action was in California, where voters decided on three measures. Proposition 1, which passed with more than half of the vote, allows the state to sell billion in general obligation bonds to fund housing for the poor, farmworkers and veterans. Proposition 2, which also passed, authorizes billion in previously appropriated funding to go toward housing for the chronically homeless, people with disabilities and the mentally ill.

The state’s most hotly debated measure, Proposition 10, failed. It would have expanded rent control in the state. Nearly million was spent on efforts for and against the measure, which the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor opposed.

In Oregon, voters approved a measure amending the state constitution to allow cities and counties to borrow money for affordable housing projects and to forge public-private partnerships. Voters in the Portland metro area voted for a companion measure, which would allocate million for affordable housing.

Voters also approved housing measures in Austin, Texas; Bellingham, Washington; Charlotte, North Carolina; Oakland and San Francisco. Proposition 422, an affordable housing measure in Flagstaff, Arizona, failed.

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.