Wheeler, TriMet at odds over housing funds

Mayor Ted Wheeler made the announcement Saturday

A file photo of a MAX train in Portland. (Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Mayor Ted Wheeler says he asked TriMet to include $100 million for affordable housing in the $1.7 billion regional transportation funding measure it is preparing for the November 2018 ballot.

Wheeler made the announcement Saturday while speaking at a community forum on affordable housing in the Southwest Corridor where Metro has proposed the region’s next MAX line. The potential measure tentative includes $750 million as the region’s share of the $2.4 billion line and $950 million for local congestion relief and safety projects.

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“I want to make sure we have money for affordable housing. I have asked that $100 million be set aside for affordable housing,” wheeler told the Oct. 14 forum at Markham Elelmentary School in Southwest Portland.

Interviewed by the Portland Tribune after the announcement, Wheeler said the city has had “many conversations” with TriMet about the request, “but we are not there yet.”

TriMet says it cannot legally spend its funds on housing, however.

“We fully understand the need for affordable housing in the community; however, TriMet is not legally allowed to issue bonds for housing of any kind, including low-income or affordable housing. While we move forward with our jurisdictional partners on discussion of a possible bond measure to fund projects that will combat traffic congestion, we also will work to help Mayor Wheeler and the region identify affordable housing opportunities near transit,” TriMet public affairs director Bernie Bottomly said in response to a request for comment.

In the past, TriMet officials have said agency’s charter prevents it from spending money directly on housing. TriMet has helped support transit oriented affordable housing development in the past, but not with direct payments.

Wheeler justified the request by saying the region is facing an affordable housing crisis that requires all governments to work together. Previous MAX line have resulted in gentrification and the displacement of existing residents, Wheeler said, something he insists must be avoided with the Southwest Corridor project. Approximately 70,000 more people are expected to move to the corridor between Portland and Tualatin by 2035, raising housing costs and potentially displacing lower income residients.

“We have to do a better job on housing strategies. We have to think holistically,” Wheeler said.

The new MAX line is being designed by Metro, the elected regional government. It will run from Portland through Tigard to Bridgeport Village. The final alignment is not scheduled to be determined until spring or summer 2018. The federal government is expected to pay 50 percent of the project, which is why TriMet — who will build, own and operate the line — is considering the measure to raise a share of the local match.

The final decision on whether the project is feasible will be made in 2021 with construction starting in 2025.

Learn more about the Southwest Corridor Plan.