Metro hears public feedback on tax to help area’s homeless

Civic Affairs

Critics say the measure is rushed and needs more oversight

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Community members got a chance on Thursday to weigh in on a new tax that aims to help homeless people in the Metro area.

The measure could appear on the May ballot. The Metro Council is looking at raising taxes on wealthier people who live in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

Nick Christensen, a senior public affairs specialist for Metro, said they’re discussing a 1% tax on people who make over $125,000 a year, or couples who make at least a quarter of a million dollars a year. The money would help the homeless, but it would not be for building more affordable housing. It would help with things like mental health services, healthcare and additional treatment services.

A large number of people and service organizations testified in favor of the tax on Thursday, including Katrina Holland who is a board member of Here Together.

“It’s long overdue,” she said. “We had a housing crisis for many years.”

Others said supportive housing provides a critical foundation for wellness. Jennifer Langston said she has experienced homelessness in the past and is in favor of the tax.

But many people expressed concerns with the measure, saying more work is needed.

One woman testified that shelters are not the answer. She accused Metro of turning a blind eye “until the equity rings hollow.”

Others questioned whether the money would be spent correctly.

“Our money isn’t being spent the way it should be now so what assurances do we have that this will be any different?” Gary Marschke asked.

Dan Newth said he’s a Street Roots vendor and has experienced homelessness firsthand. He told Metro, “Policies are beneficial for staff and negative for those trying to get into housing.”

Another man complained that the tax is not equitable, saying, “My work is being devalued to make a better life for me and my family and coworkers. I feel like I’m an ATM. I’m not a billionaire — I’m blue-collar.”

Cascade Policy Institute President John Charles Jr. said Metro doesn’t have many answers so far and the process has been rushed.

“How are they proposing to get the money? How much money? Where is it going to go? What are the metrics for measuring success? They don’t, by their own admission, know any of that,” he said.

KOIN 6 took some of these questions to Metro President Lynn Peterson and the organization that spearheaded the measure — Here Together. Peterson said Metro will set up an oversight committee to provide greater accountability.

“The reality is this is something that we’ve been talking about for years,” said Here Together board member Katrina Holland. “Quite frankly, after the housing bond passed, immediately advocates in the community were thinking we need to pair these dollars with services dollars and we tried multiple things but it didn’t go well.”

Holland is optimistic the current measure will end up on the ballot.

Metro plans to work on the language of the measure on Tuesday, Feb. 18 and they could decide whether to put the measure on the ballot as early as Thursday, Feb. 20.

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