Ice storm exposes cold truths

The breathtaking ineptitude of the government response to street camping in Portland was on full display this week with the ice storm. 

This is a city that gets an extreme winter event, on average, about once a year. A freezing cold spell in January is almost a certainty. No one should be caught off guard when it shows up.

Portland is also a metropolitan area that has a special income tax that is supposed to be dedicated to combating homelessness. That tax has raised $240 million in its first year, $337 million in its second year, and a projected $357 million in its third year, for a total of $934 million and counting.

And so what did we see when the temperatures plummeted to below-minus wind chills a week ago? We had the chair of the Multnomah County commission, Chevy Vega, on Twitter all weekend long pleading for volunteers so that the emergency shelters in Portland could stay open. Volunteers!

Then, when the air temperature hit exactly 32.1 degrees, the county closed all the shelters and sent the occupants back out onto the streets, where the mercury promptly dropped below freezing again and a new layer of ice coated the sheets of slush. The shelters did not reopen.

First of all, why do these shelters ever close? With thousands on the street, and no legally permissible way to force anyone inside until there are shelter beds for all of them, why are the shelters a temporary thing at all? Why aren't they open all year?

But even leaving that aside, when they do open, why isn't there enough money somewhere in that $934 million for adequate staffing? Why are they begging for volunteers? And why are they so desperate to close the moment it hits 32.1 degrees? Methinks the county is being badly mismanaged – that Chevy Vega isn't up to the task and should not be holding her current position. 

But the incompetence isn't just her. At least a few of my readers have let out some howls about this recent story:

Metro Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal proposed using unanticipated funds from the region’s homeless services tax to build more housing during a Metro Council meeting Tuesday.

The Metro supportive housing services tax, designed to fund supportive housing, eviction prevention and mental health and addiction treatment, could generate $123 million in unexpected funds this year, according to projections from Metro.

The regional government now expects the tax to bring in $357 million this year, up from an initial estimate of $234 million. The projections for future years have increased as well.

Madrigal proposed using that extra cash for home construction, specifically to build more affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households and workforce housing.

If you've watched the local government around here for a while, this is no surprise. No matter what the problem, no matter what the goal, Priority No. 1 for the politicians in Portland is to take all the tax money and hand it to the apartment developers and construction goons. It's been going on for decades, dating back even before Homer Williams took then-Mayor Vera Katz out to a fancy dinner and sweet-talked her out of hundreds of millions for the high-rise schlock known as the Pearl District. 

If you thought that swindle – or the follow-up, the SoWhat District – was bad, consider the fact that the new subsidized bunkers will be built on the cheap, because they're going to house people who are one stumble away from living on the street. The new boxes will be what the folks on the east Coast call "the Projects." They are not happy places to live, in or around.

Anyway, you talk about a bait-and-switch with the taxes! When the voters decided to soak the rich to fight homelessness and drug addiction, they most decidedly weren't told that nine figures a year would be going to the Usual Suspects for more bunkers. But of course, that's where it will probably go. Like so many government entities in Portland, Metro has plenty of lieutenants from the developer army in high places. They built that stupid Convention Center hotel, and now they'll swipe the homeless money to slap up more apartment blight. All with a layer of "nonprofit" grift in the middle to take a cut.

Meanwhile, the junkies keep freezing to death. It is so, so Portland.

And in the state capital, it's more of the same:

Experts on Gov. Tina Kotek’s housing production council have suggested that massive tax increases could be necessary to achieve the governor’s housing production goal of 36,000 new homes a year.

The Housing Production Advisory Council, composed of housing experts from across the state, detailed 59 potential solutions to meet Kotek’s ambitious goal in a draft proposal completed in December. The council will submit its final proposal to Kotek on Wednesday. One council member told The Oregonian/OregonLive he didn’t expect any recommendations in the draft proposal to change.

Their recommendations include:

    • Increasing all personal income tax brackets by 0.5 percentage points to raise $699 million.
    • Establishing a $1 per $1,000 real property tax assessment above Measure 5′s voter-enacted limits to raise $504 million.
    • Creating a 0.5% retail sales tax to raise $501 million.
    • Establishing a 0.5% payroll tax to raise $620 million.
    • Doubling the state’s fuel tax to raise $686 million.

Every last dime of which would go into the developer and construction dudes' pockets. "It's for the homeless" is the new "It's for the children." What a racket.


  1. The usual Republican description of the Democrat party is “tax and then spent”.

    I’m waiting for the spend part

  2. Honestly, I thought this tax was already to help build low-income housing in order to actually do something to solve this.

    I guess my time away from Portland made me naive.

    1. What the ballot measure explanation said:

      Providing supportive housing services is a widely demonstrated approach to effectively end homelessness for individuals who have experienced prolonged and repeated homelessness, and protecting families from becoming homeless with prevention assistance. Supportive housing services include case management, mental healthcare, addiction and recovery treatment, employment services, rent assistance, and other care as needed. Despite state and local efforts to increase investment in supportive housing services, the need in greater Portland exceeds local capacity.

      This measure will authorize Metro to establish a regional supportive housing funding program, providing the resources to address unmet needs of people experiencing or at risk of experiencing long-term or frequent episodes of homelessness in the greater Portland region. The measure will result in a substantial increase in the delivery of supportive housing services.

  3. Where EXACTLY is this nearly $1 BILLION dollars. A very serious and extensive audit is needed NOW!
    The incompetence is simply astonishing and not acceptable.

  4. If Kotek thinks she’s going to get all those tax increases through, she’s dumb. If that’s what she is pushing, I’m good with the R’s walking out of the legislature to stop it. I also don’t see Oregon voters passing any of those at this point if they went that route. Our state and local leaders are so disappointing in Oregon.

  5. Illegals are getting $2200 a month from .gov, much more than most people on Social Security get. And now they want to raise taxes (surprise, surprise) to pay for housing for (who knows who) while many hard working residents can barely pay rent and buy food. We do need shelters and basic services, but they way they are going about it is putting more people at risk of not making ends meet.

  6. I’m trying to understand how several of these taxes could be enacted. The $1 per $1,000 assessed value real estate tax would appear to violate the Constitutions property tax limitations on assessed value and rate of taxation. The retail sales tax would be a sales tax and I’m not sure how that would get passed either.

    As for the doubling of the gas tax, they could raise $686m and use that for roads and not institute tolling, but why not keep increasing the tax burden on Oregonians, it’s not like Oregon has an outgoing migration issue.


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