PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Metro Council President Lynn Peterson announced she is challenging freshman incumbent Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District seat — with focus on addressing housing and homelessness.
As the Metro Council President, Peterson has been the head of the tri-county regional government — comprised of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties — since 2019, overseeing a $1.8 billion budget and 1,100 employees. Metro is also tasked with region-wide planning and manages everything from the Oregon Convention Center to waste transfer facilities.
The Democrat says she’s running for Congress to focus on the “fundamentals” of issues like cost-of-living increases, home affordability and homelessness.
“I think I’m as sick and tired as everyone else that we are not focusing on the fundamentals that we see on the ground that people in communities are not thriving right now – which is the affordability of the regions across the United States and in Oregon and in this district,” Peterson told KOIN 6 News.
“We have a housing crisis and instead of focusing on a housing crisis we have folks at the federal level who are trying to ban books instead of figuring out how do we get more living wage jobs; we have people who are trying to figure out how to take women’s rights away; or take trans youth rights away; or voting rights away,” Peterson said. “I want to get in there and be the voice of the people and get some things done.”
But getting things done at the local level to address homelessness has been a challenge, Peterson says, however she credits recent bond measures with helping reduce homelessness.
“The beauty of this tri-county work that we’re doing right now is that there is a homelessness problem right now in all three counties and it was not as coordinated as it could have been,” Peterson said.
Peterson highlighted the $652.8 million Metro housing bond passed by voters in 2018 which aimed to build permanent affordable housing in the tri-county area for 12,000 people.
According to Peterson, in the first 21 months of the measure’s passage, 3,700 people left homelessness and were put in permanent supportive housing and 10,000 people were kept from going into homelessness.
“We are well on our way, but it is never going to feel fast enough because of the crisis that we’re in,” Peterson said of addressing homelessness.
Peterson also highlighted the affordable housing bond measure passed by voters in 2020, and targets high-income earners, to build at least 3,900 affordable and low-income housing units for 12,000 people.
“What the good news is — besides the folks that we moved off the street, besides the folks that we kept from going into homelessness — that measure is going to be able to serve not 12,000 but 14,000 people at any one time. Because we’re going to be able to get around 4,700 units, not 3,900,” Peterson stated.
The 5th District candidate says Oregon has not been able to keep up with housing since the market crash.
“This is a multi-variant problem. There’s no one thing that caused us to be here but when we look back, you can go back to the housing bubble and the fact that people were moving to Portland, into this region, even though the bubble burst and no housing construction was really done for five years,” Peterson said.
She added, “now we’re behind and just getting missing middle housing built, any kind of housing built. So, as we get caught up on that, it will help both on private side as development is happening but also on the public subsidy side because we lack in both of those. Until we actually get that housing market going again, we will continue to have a housing crisis.”
As the state grapples with the lack of affordable housing, Metro found that Multnomah County underspent $46 million in housing funds.
Peterson says Metro has been working with Multnomah County and County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson to come up with a corrective action plan to get the millions of dollars out the door as quickly as possible.
“The amount of money flowing into the system now — the counties were able to get from first gear to second gear…in the first 21 months. It’s getting into third gear and getting the full program operational that has been a recent struggle,” Peterson explained.
Peterson claims that it has been difficult to coordinate between counties as budgets decrease.
“There’s been conversations for over 20 years about how to coordinate between the three counties and there’s been some small successes made but the amount of money in Clackamas County at the time and the amount of money coming in from the federal and state governments…has been very, very low. And it kept getting smaller, and smaller and smaller,” Peterson said.
“I think the harder part is the internal mechanisms of government were built up for a smaller system and so the minute large amounts of money start flowing through, how do they staff up? How do they have their oversight? How are they holding themselves accountable to getting that money out the door? And sometimes we just trip over ourselves with old rules that need to be updated.”