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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

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City of Portland announces federal funds to help pay for seismic retrofits for 150 homes

Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick announced today that another round of federal funds allocated to a City of Portland pilot project will help homeowners seismically strengthen their homes.

The pilot project is the next stage of a partnership between the City of Portland and Enhabit (formerly Clean Energy Works), an Oregon non-profit, and is designed to increase the number of seismically upgraded homes in the city. The federal grant will pay up to half the cost of seismic upgrades for 150 local eligible homeowners, who were chosen at random from a wait list compiled last summer in coordination with Enhabit.

The selections were weighted to ensure that half of all upgrades are made to homes under the median market value for a Portland home. Enhabit and the City of Portland applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the funding last summer.

“It’s essential to the survival of the city that people’s homes be bolted to their foundations. If too many houses do not survive the earthquake, people will leave and many won’t return – as in New Orleans after Katrina. We are delighted that FEMA is making this investment in this critical aspect of preparedness. It would be great to have $500 million instead of $500,000, but every bit helps, and we trust that in the future, Congress will give FEMA much more money for this kind of pre-disaster mitigation,” says City of Portland Commissioner Steve Novick.

Enhabit, which helps homeowners complete and finance seismic, energy efficiency, radon mitigation and solar energy projects, will manage the 150 seismic retrofits, all of which will be completed in 2016. The first phase of the pilot provided retrofits to 23 homes. Enhabit-certified contractors have completed more than 60 seismic retrofits to date, and the organization is forecasting completion of a total of 300 projects in 2016, with an eye toward continued growth and collaboration with the City and FEMA in future years.

“With our nation’s infrastructure falling apart and falling behind, making these crucial investments to prepare for natural disasters is essential,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “It’s encouraging to see FEMA helping empower those homeowners who most need help making these important seismic upgrades. Investing in prevention reduces risks to our communities and allows for a more efficient use of already strained relief resources.”

"This grant helps to provide much-needed updates to retrofit older Portland homes built decades ago without the ability to withstand strong earthquakes. I am proud to have supported the city’s grant application, which recognizes the potential impact of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and the need to act with a sense of urgency to finance essential safety preparations,” notes Sen. Ron Wyden.

“We can’t just put our heads in the sand and pretend that a major earthquake isn’t a possibility for our region. We need to focus on earthquake preparedness and resilience at all levels of government,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley. “Too many of our homes, roads, bridges and businesses are not designed to withstand a major earthquake and this funding from FEMA will help Portland homeowners get a little more peace of mind,” he added.

The potential for widespread damage to homes after a major earthquake in Portland is high. Western Oregon and Portland are located near the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault off the coast capable of producing earthquakes similar to the Tōhoku quake in Japan in 2011. The last major Cascadia earthquake was in the year 1700 and there are also several faults running through the city. Portland has about 100,000 older unreinforced single-family homes that may be vulnerable to shaking from an earthquake.

“Homeowner urgency and interest in seismic strengthening has increased dramatically over the past year,” said Tim Miller, CEO of Enhabit. “Our hope is that as we can continue to work with the City of Portland and the federal government we can ensure that hundreds—or even thousands—more homes are upgraded and better prepared for the earthquake we know is coming. While we’re at it, we’re continuing to create good jobs in our community.”

Enhabit offers a unique “one-stop shop” for home upgrades, making it easier for homeowners to complete energy efficiency, seismic, radon mitigation and solar energy upgrades. The organization helps homes work and feel better, while providing customers with everything needed to complete upgrades, including rebates, skilled contractors, no-money-down financing and a free 100-Point Performance Check that illuminates all the opportunities to improve a home’s performance.

“The City’s partnership with Enhabit demonstrates an important public-private approach to increasing Portland’s earthquake resilience,” says Carmen Merlo, PBEM Director. “By keeping people safe in their homes, we are more likely to recover quickly after a disaster,” she added.

About Enhabit

Enhabit (formerly Clean Energy Works) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Portland, Ore. that’s focused on building more resilient communities. Enhabit is the next step for homeowners who want to make their homes work and feel better. From the initial review of the home, to choosing a trusted contractor and financing to make the right efficiency, health and safety upgrades affordable, Enhabit is committed to high-performance home renewal that makes sense.

Editor’s Note: Homeowners interested in joining a seismic assessment wait list and receiving notification of any future funding available to offset seismic retrofit costs should visit

Bryan Hockaday, Office of Commissioner Novick,, 503-823-1059
Stephanie Swanson, VP Communications, Enhabit,, 971-246-1732
Dan Douthit, PIO, PBEM,, 503-793-1650

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Bryan Hockaday, Office of Commissioner Novick,, 503-823-1059

Stephanie Swanson, VP Communications, Enhabit,, 971-246-1732

Dan Douthit, PIO, PBEM,, 503-793-1650

Women's History Month in the City of Portland

I’m honored to stand with my fellow commissioners in celebrating Women’s History Month. Given the theme of this year’s national celebration, “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government,” I would like to express my gratitude for the women who work for the City of Portland and who, by their example, encourage future generations of women to engage in the public process and serve their community.

Last year, I attended the City’s “Wonder Woman Awards” and was inspired to learn more about the City of Portland employees who were nominated by their coworkers who stand out as role models, mentors, and are “generally exceptional employees.” For the public, the face of the City is often the commissioners and bureau directors, but that event gave me the opportunity to meet the exceptional employees who frequently work behind the scenes and without whom we wouldn’t be the “City that Works.”

Justice Sotomayor once said that “It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand.” Women have shaped the history of this country just as much as men and it’s important for all of us, not just women, to honor and remember women’s roles. Justice Sotomayor is the perfect example of the essential leadership of women in our country and while I try to honor City employees as often as I can, this month gives me the opportunity to take a moment and truly thank the exceptional employees, mentors and women at the City.

Clean air in all of Portland

I was horrified when we first heard about very high levels of cadmium and arsenic in north and southeast Portland, but sadly, perhaps I should not have been surprised. As the City Club summarized in their 2013 report Invisible Enemies: Reducing Air Toxics in the Portland Airshed, “Portland’s metro area endures toxic air pollutants at concentrations that negatively affect the public’s overall health and increase the rate of disease. At least 52 air toxics are present in Oregon, and between six and ten [pollutants] are at unhealthy concentrations in Portland.”  The contamination of Portland’s air is a big problem, and one that disproportionately affects children in poor and minority populations. 

Mayor Hales and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury sent this letter to Governor Brown on behalf of both the City and County regarding the recent news and the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) response. 

As the Governor suggested in her February 15 statement on this topic, our state air quality regulations require a comprehensive review to ensure Portlanders’ health isn’t adversely affected by what’s in our air. For example, diesel exhaust from trucks and construction equipment is another major air quality problem in Portland. Diesel exhaust is toxic to humans because particulate matter in the exhaust is so small it can cross through our lungs directly into the bloodstream causing cancer, asthma, strokes and heart attacks. In Portland, pollution from diesel exhaust is most likely to be concentrated in neighborhoods where low income communities and people of color live, work, and go to school.

Moreover, there’s a ready solution to this problem: new filter technology can be installed on many existing diesel vehicles and equipment to reduce particulate matter emissions by 50-90%. Washington and California have already implemented much tougher rules, and Oregon risks becoming a dumping ground for outdated dirty equipment. At the City, we’ve retrofitted our own fleet of diesel construction equipment as part of a federal grant project, but we don’t have the authority to require pollution controls on all diesel engines. We need statewide action on this now to protect the health of all Portlanders, and I hope the Governor and Legislature will include this and other sources of toxic air pollution in their comprehensive review of air quality regulation.

Bringing affordability back to Portland’s neighborhoods

Over the next 20 years, Portland is projected to add 260,000 new people to the roughly 620,000 people who already live here. As we develop the City’s Comprehensive Plan for the next twenty years, we’re figuring out how our city will grow to accommodate these new Portlanders. The plan currently before Council envisions growth along corridors and in neighborhood centers. There is logic behind this plan, but I want to be sure Portlanders have choices beyond super unaffordable million dollar single-family homes and tiny studios in tall apartment buildings. 

I recently learned about a concept called “middle housing” that would help accommodate projected population growth, while keeping our city sustainable and affordable for all kinds of families. Daniel Parolek, an architect and urban planner from Berkeley, California, coined the phrase “middle housing” in 2000. 

Middle housing is defined as “in-between” housing – in-between single family houses and larger multi-family buildings.  Middle housing includes “Rowhouses, duplexes [and] apartment courts,” and, in general, is built at the same scale (size, height, setbacks) as single-family homes. The difference is middle housing offers a more affordable option for residential housing within existing neighborhoods.

This type of housing is often “attached,” meaning that homes share a wall, floor, or ceiling with at least one other household—think brownstones (rowhouses) in New York City or flats (stacked duplexes) in London. Throughout the U.S., including in Portland, single family zoning codes prohibit building the attached housing that typifies middle housing around the world.

Although it may not be readily apparent, middle housing is not entirely new to Portland. In fact, this type of housing already exists in several of Portland’s historic neighborhoods, such as the Buckman Neighborhood. However, the current zoning code wouldn’t, in most cases, allow Buckman’s middle housing to be built there today.

Middle housing is just as much about housing affordability and equity as accommodating growth and diversity of housing types. Part of housing affordability is, without a doubt, subsidizing the production of new affordable housing for people who earn below the median family income, and we must maintain our commitment to building subsidized housing. But another part of affordability is getting our zoning code out of the way of smaller, attached housing. We should provide as many housing types at as many price points as possible, and prioritize stable affordable rents.

If a vacant lot is used to build housing for multiple families in smaller, more affordable, attached homes– buildings that match the scale of neighborhoods– rather than one family in a larger home, more people will be able to live in Portland’s most desirable neighborhoods.

I’m interested in considering changes to the Comprehensive Plan to expand the existing zones (primarily R1, R2 and R2.5) that allow middle housing to be built. I’m also interested in taking a close look at the housing types we allow in all of our single family zones; perhaps we can allow more middle housing in a wider range of residential zones. Finally, we won’t get new middle housing unless the market supports it and developers build it. So, the City should explore changes and incentives to encourage smaller, more affordable middle housing.

I want a Portland that is diverse in all kinds of ways. We need housing that works for young single people, families with kids and older couples who have downsized. People should have choices other than a 400 square foot apartment and a $1 million house.  We need a range of housing types that are affordable for people all along the income spectrum. I think we can provide that and still preserve the unique character of our neighborhoods, renowned for both their livability and weirdness, and prevent Portland from devolving into a city like San Francisco: a fiefdom of the rich.

I know some Portlanders are concerned about any new development near their home, and, undoubtedly, the ideas here will also raise concerns. I understand this, and I want to hear from lots of people. I hope you’ll engage in our ongoing dialogue. Here are some ways you can get involved now: 

How Abraham Lincoln said that black lives matter (LA Times)

LA Times: February 27, 2015 by Martha Hodes

A decade and a half into the 21st century, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is under fire, and white-on-black violence brings the cry that black lives matter. As we approach the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln, we would do well to reconsider his most famous imperative: “with malice toward none; with charity for all.”

In his second inaugural address, delivered March 4, 1865, Lincoln declared that the fighting would last “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” The war, he meant, would not end until slavery ended. Lincoln closed that address with the appeal for “malice toward none” and “charity for all,” exhorting his listeners to “strive on to finish the work we are in” and to “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and a lasting peace.”

Many at the time thought they knew what Lincoln meant, and many today understand those words in the same way: As the Union Army approached triumph, it seemed that Lincoln wanted the conquerors to treat their vanquished Confederates with mercy. But what if that reading misunderstands the fundamental political impulse behind those lyrical directives?

When the war ended little more than a month later, black and white Southerners harbored sharply clashing visions of the nation's future. African Americans envisioned the federal government enforcing freedom, equality and suffrage, and disenfranchising former Confederates. The defeated rebels, for their part, envisioned renewed black subordination and the restoration of their own rights, without federal interference.

Accordingly — despite emancipation and victory — African Americans looked ahead with trepidation. The day after the glorious fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865, Frederick Douglass warned a Boston audience that “hereafter, at the South, the negro will be looked upon with a fiercer and intenser hate than ever before.” When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, the editors of the New York Anglo-African warned that there remained immense support for “oppressions akin to slavery.”

When the [Civil War] ended ... black and white Southerners harbored sharply clashing visions of the nation's future.

Two days after Lee's surrender, Lincoln addressed a crowd from the White House balcony, reflecting on the nation's reconstruction. He would “prefer,” he submitted, that voting rights be extended to black men who were “very intelligent” and to “those who serve our cause as soldiers.” His cautious suggestion irritated abolitionists. “Why can't he cut down the whole tree,” a white woman wrote in her Massachusetts diary, “instead of lopping off the branches?”

But the same suggestion struck Lincoln's antagonists as entirely too revolutionary. Among them was a young Shakespearean actor who stood in the crowd that evening. “That means nigger citizenship,” snapped John Wilkes Booth. “Now, by God, I'll put him through.” Three nights later, Booth entered the presidential box at Ford's Theatre and fired a single shot into the back of Lincoln's head.

The nation's first presidential assassination did not subdue former Confederates; many expressed glee and many continued to dream of retribution. As President Andrew Johnson sided with white Southerners, black Southerners just as rapidly reached for Lincoln's legacy and for the mandates of his second inaugural. They told Johnson, in petitions to the White House, that he was replacing “a man who had proved himself indeed our friend,” reminding him of the “liberty brought us and our wives and our little ones by your noble predecessor.”

Were these African Americans, and others who echoed their sentiments, ignoring Lincoln's recent call for “malice toward none” and “charity for all”? On the contrary, black mourners seem to have interpreted those words to apply, not to former Confederates, but just the opposite: to themselves.

That's why black mourners inscribed those phrases on the banner they carried through the nation's capital on the Fourth of July, 1865. That's why Douglass surmised that, had Lincoln lived, “the negro of the South would have more than a hope of enfranchisement and no rebels would hold the reins of Government in any one of the late rebellious states.” That's why Douglass concluded that “to the colored people,” Lincoln's death was “an unspeakable calamity.”

At the close of the second inaugural, Lincoln had added the imperative of working toward “a just and a lasting peace.” Douglass told his fellow mourners on July 4 that “permanent peace” could not be accomplished without justice, and justice required going beyond legal freedom, to encompass voting rights. “Slavery,” he believed, “is not abolished until the black man has the ballot.” That's what Lincoln meant too, apparent in his call for the first steps toward black suffrage that was offered in the White House speech that Booth's bullet transformed into his last public address.

Or at least that was the case made by African American victors-turned-mourners, when they looked to the spirit of the slain president to realize their visions of freedom and equality. Lincoln's call to “strive on to finish the work we are in” today holds a special poignancy — and a call to action. For as protesters in New York, Florida and Missouri remind us now, without justice, peace will remain elusive. As will Lincoln's spirit of “malice toward none” and his guiding vision of “charity for all.”

Martha Hodes, a professor of history at New York University, is the author, most recently, of "Mourning Lincoln."

LA Times: February 27, 2015 by Martha Hodes