Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

Commissioner Steve Novick

Official Website for Commissioner Steve Novick

Phone: 503-823-4682

fax: 503-823-4019

1221 SW 4th Ave. Suite 210, Portland, OR 97204

Addressing the Need for Affordable Housing

Portland is experiencing growing pains. We have an incredible parks system, well-respected public schools, a strong business community, and each neighborhood in our city has its own unique character. The rest of the country has taken notice, and we have thousands of new Portlanders to show for it. On the one hand, our increased population means that we have attracted impressive talent that enhances our economy and universities, as well as our culinary and artistic communities. Our quality of life and corresponding prominence on the national stage are great for Portlanders. On the other hand, growth means that our housing market is stretched thin.

Portland will continue to grow over the next 20 years. We anticipate that 260,000 new residents will join the 620,000 Portlanders who live here today. Absent a significant increase in supply, that population growth will continue to drive up the cost of housing. This is a huge problem, especially for the most vulnerable people in our community.

Thousands of families are forced to move every year because of rent increases, and sometimes more than once. For example, consider a family that will have to move out when their rent increases from $800 dollars to $1,400. A family facing such a steep increase may not be able to afford to rent a new apartment in the same school district, so they need to pull their kids out of school, putting them behind.

Currently, tens of thousands of Portlanders spend at least 30% of their income on rent.  When a family pays more than 30% of their income on housing, they don’t have enough left over to afford other necessities like food, clothes, and medical expenses. In the city budget this year, Council made a significant commitment to housing with $29 million in new investments in housing and homeless services.  And now, we are taking action on more strategies to address homelessness as well as the need for affordable housing.

Last week, Council took a historic step and partnered with Multnomah County to create the Joint Office for Homeless Services. The agreement, which transfers existing City and County programs that address homelessness to the Joint Office, establishes a baseline funding commitment of $15 million a year each from the City and the County. By combining City and County resources and knowledge, we should be able to work more efficiently to help the 4,000 people who sleep on our streets each night.

I am excited about the potential success of this historic partnership.  However, I’m concerned that, based on the City’s budget this year, we are $3.5 million short of our $15 million commitment. To address this funding gap, I have proposed a Council work session in the fall to discuss strategies, and I am confident that we will prioritize resources for this important need. 

Yesterday, Council adopted a Construction Excise Tax (CET) on commercial and residential development as an additional revenue source for affordable housing for families who earn below 60% median family income (MFI). For years, we’ve been preempted by the Legislature from enacting construction excise taxes. This has been unfortunate since development has costs, and a construction excise tax can be a logical revenue source to help us pay for those costs. Thanks to the Legislature’s action earlier this year, we now have this tool in our toolbox, and I’m glad that’s the case. If this tax had been in place for the past five years, the Housing Bureau estimates that the CET would have raised about $8 million. Taking this step now will help prevent the continued displacement of low income families and people of color from our city.

I have heard loud and clear that Portlanders are feeling the effects of our tight housing market and that significant commitments from your government are important to you. Together, these actions demonstrate City Council’s commitment to addressing the housing crisis, and I’m proud to support them.

Portland's New Work Zone Guidelines

This morning, City Council adopted a resolution to create safe accommodations for pedestrian and cyclists in and around construction work zones. Through this adoption, the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has greater authority to provide safe, convenient, ADA-compliant routes for pedestrian and bicyclists through construction sites. PBOT expects to fully incorporate these guidelines into the building permit process for new projects in 2017.

Strong economic conditions and a high demand for housing have resulted in a development boom.  One of the consequences of that boom is that some pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes have been closed, making everyone more vulnerable to serious injuries. Under the new work zone guidelines, barricades, mobility ramps or pavement markings alongside a construction site will be considered before directing pedestrians and bicyclists across the street.

Over the next few months, PBOT will initiate education and enforcement campaigns for these new standards. PBOT has already begun working with contractors to help them adjust their work plans. Next year, Portlanders will have an easier time navigating construction sites throughout the city. Portland families deserve safe streets on which to walk, bike, operate mobility devices, access transit, and drive. PBOT aims to make our transportation system the safest possible and to move toward zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries in the next 10 years.

Commissioner Novick's Statement Regarding the Proposed Use of State Volkswagen Settlement Funds for Clean Diesel Program

(June 28th, 2016) — I commend Governor Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum for today’s announcement about the settlement with Volkswagen relating to emissions fraud. Further, I support the Governor’s announcement that $68 million from the settlement will be used to reduce diesel emissions from trucks and other eligible sources under Oregon Department of Environmental Quality programs. I remain deeply concerned about the effect diesel emissions have on the health of Portlanders and am committed to supporting policies that further the goal of better public health. As the Governor said today, diesel pollution is the number one air quality threat in our state. According to a new report from the Oregon Environmental Council, dirty diesel causes more fatalities than traffic crashes and burdens Oregon with up to $3.5 billion a year in health costs and lost productivity. Moreover, dirty diesel emissions disproportionately affect neighborhoods with more low income and people of color.

Operators can upgrade their diesel engines to stop dirty diesel emissions, and Washington and California have adopted policies to require this proven solution (Oregon has not, and as a result we have become a dumping ground for dirty diesel engines).  The upgrades are costly, and in many cases the owners of the “dirty diesel” equipment are small businesses with limited ability to pay.  Recognizing that, Washington and California have invested considerable funds in retrofitting trucks and construction equipment.  Last week during City Council’s consideration of the marijuana tax ballot measure, clean air advocates called attention to the need for State and local action on this important issue, including allocating funds to speed the transition to cleaner diesel engines.  Now, the Governor’s announcement makes clear that there will be funds available for this important priority.  It should be easier for the Legislature to adopt Washington/California-style clean diesel rules if there are funds available to assist small businesses. 

In past years, the City Council has advocated for the State Legislature to address diesel pollution, and I am fully committed to making more progress in 2017.  

PBOT invites Portlanders to apply for Fixing our Streets Oversight Committee

16 member Oversight Committee to ensure accountability and transparency of Fixing our Streets Program

As one of the first steps in launching the Fixing Our Streets Program, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) today invited Portlanders to apply for the Fixing our Streets Oversight Committee. The committee will play an important role in ensuring the accountability of the transportation safety and maintenance program voters created when in May they passed Measure 26-173, the four-year, ten-cent Portland gas tax. The Committee will also provide oversight for the projects funded by the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax which was passed by the City Council on May 11, 2016.

When City Council approved placing Measure 26-173 on the ballot, they created the 16-member Oversight Committee and mandated that it include representatives from Portland’s various neighborhoods, modal interests, business liaisons, transportation professionals and advocates from Portland's most vulnerable communities.

“After spending several years fighting for the funding to fix our streets and make them safer, I’m excited to finally get to work,” said Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick. “We need a diverse group of community members to serve on this oversight committee to ensure implementation of these important projects.”

The role of the Oversight Committee will be to:

  1. Provide guidance to City Council on the effective use of new resources.
  2. Monitor revenues, expenditures, and program/project implementation.
  3. Review program priorities, spending, and any necessary revisions to project lists/financial plans, including the annual program audit. May make recommendations to City Council for project list revisions.
  4. Monitor construction impacts to businesses and neighborhoods.
  5. Monitor utilization of minority-owned, women-owned, and emerging small businesses to support community benefits.
  6. Provide an annual report to City Council containing the above information.

Applications will be due July 19th. The committee will meet quarterly with the first meeting slated for September. 

The application is available at: www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/581590

Measure 26-173 is expected to raise $64 million over four years. The program’s project list includes paving, sidewalks, crossing improvements, neighborhood greenways, safe routes to school, high crash corridors, protected bike lanes and alternative street design that will have a significant impact on neighborhoods across Portland. The full project list and other information about Measure 26-173 and the Fixing Our Streets Program can be found at: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/64188

Thoughts on the Final Adoption of the Comprehensive Plan

Last week, the City Council adopted the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. This plan is a big deal. Using the guiding principles of economic prosperity, human health, environmental health, equity, and resilience, the 2035 Comprehensive Plan is the guiding document for where and how Portland will grow. In the next 20 years, we expect that 260,000 new residents will join the current 620,000 Portlanders. On top of that, we’re expected to add 140,000 new jobs to the 370,000 jobs we have today.

The process of developing this plan required significant participation by many people. Together, Policy Expert Groups, the Planning and Sustainability Commission and the City Council spent hundreds of hours collaborating, including listening to and reading testimony from thousands of Portlanders.  My sincere thanks to everyone who participated in this effort.

Given the importance of last week’s final vote, I want to share a few thoughts about the plan’s most important elements.                                 

Our city is currently grappling with two significant problems that will be addressed by the new Comprehensive Plan: climate disruption and housing affordability. Climate disruption is the greatest challenge of the 21st century, posing a serious threat to our natural resources as well as to our economy and health. And housing affordability is a local crisis, threatening to make Portland a place where only high-income people can afford to live, eliminating diversity in our neighborhoods and foreclosing opportunities for low-income families and people of color.

Building more housing is part of the strategy to help address both climate disruption and housing affordability.

Lots of people want to move here, including people with high incomes. If we don’t allow more housing to be built, those new Portlanders will continue bidding up the cost of our existing housing. But demand isn’t infinite. If we allow enough new housing, we should have room for those high-income people and for people with more modest incomes.

Of course, we are going to build some affordable housing with tax dollars. But government-subsidized housing typically only helps people who earn below median income. To ensure that people of all incomes can afford to live in Portland, we need to build subsidized affordable housing and allow for more and different kinds of market housing.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, increased density improves the livability of our neighborhoods and helps to address climate change. It takes about 7,000 households within walking distance of each other to make a grocery store economically viable. By identifying places where enough people can live close enough together, it will be easier to walk rather than drive to the grocery store, reducing carbon emissions. And when you have a lot of people living close together, public transit becomes more viable—a light rail line is a lot more economical if it picks up 30 people a stop instead of 5 people a stop.  This means that transit will become a better option, even for longer trips. New York City has far lower carbon emissions than we do, and that’s largely because New Yorkers take the subway everywhere. The subway only makes sense because there are a lot of people per stop.

Tackling housing affordability and climate disruption is also why I am passionate about middle housing. In Comprehensive Plan hearings, we heard testimony from neighborhood advocates concerned about the negative consequences of growth and change. Many Portlanders are concerned that growth will change the look and feel of their neighborhoods. In a market where single-family homes are becoming unaffordable for many people, we need other housing options. But if we put apartment buildings everywhere, it will radically change the look and feel of our neighborhoods. Middle housing, which includes duplexes, triplexes, and even larger courtyard apartments, can meld seamlessly into a single family neighborhood. If you walk through the Buckman neighborhood, you’ll see dozens of examples of middle housing that fit with the character of the neighborhood.

In addition to these big themes, I want to mention a few other significant elements of this Comprehensive Plan.

  • The anti-displacement provisions we incorporated into the plan are important to ensure we keep Portland open to everyone. City Council supported all of the measures proposed by Anti-Displacement PDX for the final plan, and I congratulate them for their effective advocacy. We must keep our focus on preventing displacement, though, because implementation will be the true test of these policies. I look forward to continued discussions about this during the forthcoming zoning code update, during our discussions about building subsidized affordable housing, and in many other areas.
  • I was concerned when I heard that the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s recommended draft plan used the low cargo forecast because I was worried that this could send a negative signal to harbor businesses that in some cases employ many people in good livable wage jobs. New analysis by staff showed that we could increase capacity on some harbor lands and move from the low to the middle cargo forecast. This is the right decision and sets a course for continued investment in the economic engine that is the harbor.
  • I am pleased that we maintained the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s recommendation to preserve Broadmoor Golf Course as “open space.” Broadmoor is a unique ecological resource that should be preserved as wildlife habitat.
  • I am pleased that we adopted a transportation strategy that prioritizes right-of-way design for pedestrians and cyclists. The transportation strategy is critical as our population grows. We need to make investments in transportation infrastructure that make it safe and easy to walk and bike for short trips, opening up street capacity for longer trips by transit and car. I am also glad that we have prioritized disability accessibility as its own policy in Chapter 9. Thanks to my colleagues for supporting this important policy.
  • The Bureau of Transportation Project List identifies multi-modal projects that address the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight movers, and motorists. The list of investments is needed to maintain existing facilities and ensure the system meets the needs of Portlanders for decades to come.

Thanks to all of the Portlanders who had a role in developing this plan, and I look forward to the next steps in putting our Comprehensive Plan into action.