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Life flows through the breathing of our city.
From “the cradle of mankind”, to the land of modern civilization
From the home of slivers gleaming white sand, to the highland of Shimbiris
From the places of superlatives, to the places of Enchantment.
We came, from near and thousand miles afar
Some came without knowing why
Some abandoned and forgotten by the ruler of their land
Some escaped, for one last hope of survival
Some came for glimpses of better opportunity.
Written by New Portland Policy Commissioners Ping Khaw, Anne Downing, and Yonas Kassie
Whatever the reasons for which we arrived, New Portlanders Policy Commissioners convene and gather at the big oval table at the Rose conference room. We carry history of foe and adversary, diversity, experience and expectation. All our faith pulled us together.
Our purpose, redefined through the mission of NPPC, is to engage and change. Pulling muscles with city leaders, sharing laughter and tears with newcomers, to the betterment of our community and city. We thrive.
Our quest for equity shapes our Commission. This floor welcomes us to deliver the strength in us to our beloved city. We take pride in consulting those in need of advice, to advocate for those who have little voices, to educate those who don’t see us, and to partner with those who honor our dedication.
Running a wild stream of faith, beliefs, cultures and politics, it drives us red and sweaty, at times. But we offer our sincere passion and heart. The state of our being echo’s in this luscious land of Oregon. Regardless of who and where we came from, it’s our common vision now - to provide a safe harbor to our refugee and immigrant brothers and sisters in Portland. With this, we welcome you from the bottom of our heart. Be here now.
Finally, we cannot close this first edition without expressing our admiration for the beauty of our city of Portlandia, Roses, Columbia and Willamette rivers, parks, bridges and bicycle paths, eco-friendliness, microbreweries, coffeehouses, the Japanese Garden and the Oregon Zoo. Portland!
** Our great appreciation extends to Commissioner Eudaly for kindly giving us this space to express/share our experience. That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next chapter. We will be back with progress, honesty and stories.
** This august commission consists of members from Malaysia, Ethiopia, Iraq, East and Southeast Asia, Myanmar (Burma), Chad, the Former Soviet Union, Chuuk and Tonga (Federated States of Micronesia), Mexico, Bhutan, Nepal, Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Japan, and the United States
The New Portlanders Policy Commission is a 25-member Mayor appointed body established to provide technical and policy advice to all City Bureaus and Elected Officials. Its mission is to demonstrate the City’s commitment to engaging immigrant and refugee communities in policy making and service delivery, and to better serve and fully integrate the immigrant and refugee community into the civic life of the City of Portland.
We live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet we learned this week that there is not a state left in our union where a full-time worker earning federal minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. In Portland, where our minimum wage is significantly higher than the federal minimum wage, a full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford the average rent on a one-bedroom apartment, they cannot afford the average rent on a studio apartment, and they cannot even afford the average rent for a room in a shared house.
We are experiencing a national housing crisis driven by our federal government's divestment in affordable housing. By state and local governments who have failed to meet the growing need for affordable housing, adequately regulate their rental markets, and to protect and stabilize tenants. By Wall Street, who is not only responsible for our housing crash but has been snapping up thousands upon thousands of multifamily and single-family residences in our city while showing rampant disregard for the people who reside in them. And finally by multiple industries, not the least of which is the landlord lobby, with a vested financial interest in extracting every penny from renters with no regard for the impact on their renters, our communities, or our local economy.
We know that half of the renters in Portland are cost-burdened by housing expenses. We know that housing discrimination, both intentional and unintentional, is still prevalent. We know that there is an overwhelming correlation between affordability and homelessness. The challenges and needs are overwhelming. We need 24,000 additional deeply affordable units just to house our extremely low-income residents. It's going to take many years, possibly decades, to fill that gap, but something we can achieve much more rapidly is protecting and stabilizing tenants, and decreasing barriers to securing housing, which is critical to our overall housing strategy. This policy package is a significant contribution to that effort.
I've talked enough about our housing crisis, our failures, and the devastating outcomes over the course of the three public hearings this item has had. Today, I want to focus my remarks on the lessons I've learned while developing this policy with my team and our many stakeholders.
When we began the challenge of changing tenant protections in Portland, we knew we would face intense scrutiny and resistance. As mostly tenants ourselves, we had our own experiences of obstacles and challenges that inform our perspectives. But what we didn't fully realize, and what we had to learn was that extrapolating from our own limited experience wasn't enough. It took some courageous partners to look us in the eye and tell us we were not centering the right people--those who faced the most disproportionate impacts of our housing policies. What we learned was that racism and discrimination are deeply embedded in everything we do, despite our best intentions, even our own policy-making processes were flawed, and without genuinely confronting that reality, we stood to perpetuate harm to many of the people we were setting out to serve.
It is no secret that Portland has a long history of overtly racist housing laws—the effects of which still shape our City today. What we fail to acknowledge more readily is that many of our current laws continue to uphold discriminatory practices. While the language may be less explicit now, the effect is just as clear: we continue to see communities of color, and especially Black residents, pushed to the margins of our City and beyond at an alarming rate.
The heart of the Fair Access in Renting policies is about addressing the criteria that continue to be used in as a proxy for race, which includes criminal records, income requirements, and credit scores which leads to discrimination and disparate outcomes. We would never have come to these policy solutions if we did not consider the unique experiences, needs, and barriers faced by Black renters in Portland. The policies before us today would not have been as strong if they were not developed in partnership with our community allies. I believe that, as policymakers, we are most effective when we listen to and champion the solutions put forth by impacted communities. When we recognize individuals as not just stakeholders, but as the best experts on their own lives. We must take the time to develop authentic relationships, listen with an open mind and heart, and have the faith and courage to advance these community-developed solutions.
Believe me when I tell you that we also turned to the industry experts. While we did receive input and support from some housing providers, what we received most of was opposition to any change at all. My staff spent many hours with landlords big and small, imploring them to provide some meaningful suggestions that would get us to the outcomes we all agree on. The gist of what we heard from most landlords is that while everyone agrees that discrimination is wrong, no one wants to be compelled to do anything about it. We heard from small landlords that they're not professional enough to implement our policies and from large landlords and property management companies that they are too professional. What substantive suggestions we did get from them that did not compromise the outcomes of increased access were incorporated into the final policy, including the two-track system that gives landlords a choice about how they screen applicants.
I do not claim that the Fair Access in Renting package solves all our problems, nor do I believe the communities themselves are happy and satisfied with everything in it. But together, we built the most comprehensive screening criteria reform policy in the country, and I am proud of how we did it and why.
I want to thank everyone who worked with us to make this happen. Because we worked with a lot of people, this is going to take a few minutes:
Fair Housing Council of Oregon, especially Yoni and Allan: You held our feet to the fire on Fair Housing guidance and got us to abandon a different version of the policy that went too far astray of what the federal government says is best practice. Because of that, our policy is defensible, and its foundation is strong. Thank you!
Community Alliance of Tenants, especially Katrina and Pam: You were the ones who first alerted us to the ways in which our policies could cause more harm than good if we didn't center the lived experiences of people of color first in the work we do. You were with us every step of the way to make sure we stayed focused on the most impacted communities, and you weren't afraid to push back when we didn't. Thank you!
Urban League of Portland, especially Hannah: Much like CAT, you were steadfast in your stance that this policy must make actual change for impacted communities. You openly refused to endorse until you were confident that they were strong enough to do good for Black communities. You pushed us continually to be brave and to imagine what was possible. Your official endorsement is one of our proudest achievements. Thank you!
Oregon Law Center and Legal Aid Services of Oregon, especially Christina and Becky: Your constant vigilance and your expertise pertaining to what tenants really face in the rental housing market was invaluable. You also steered us toward some of the most profound research available and guided us on what other cities and states are moving toward to make sure we're in alignment with recognized best practices. Thank you!
OneApp Oregon, especially Tyrone: While we may still disagree about the potential outcomes of this policy, I know you worked very closely with my office on your own time and took some real risks with your business to help us get the data we needed to make sure we were moving in the right direction. Your platform gave us the informational foundation we needed to ensure we remained centered on the communities we intended to serve. Thank you!
Central City Concern, especially Mercedes: While you came a little later into the policy development, the work you did to support these changes, as well as the immense amount of experience and policy brilliance you brought to the table, was invaluable. We got over the finish line in no small part thanks to your efforts to build bridges where we still had chasms. Thank you!
Dr. Lisa Bates: Without your expertise in data and housing research, we would never have been able to demonstrate the potential outcomes of increased housing access for the tenants we centered. We are forever grateful that you made time to work with us and use your award-winning skills to strengthen what the community has always known needed to happen to open doors for renters facing extraordinary barriers. Thank you!
I would also like to thank the many people and organizations that spent untold hours with us developing this policy and pushed us to understand the broad complexities and its impacts on everyone in the system. So big thank you's to the New Portlanders Policy Commission, Margot Black and members of Portland Tenants United, SE Works, NW Pilot Project, Portland Commission on Disability, Home Forward, Human Solutions, Reach CDC, Transition Projects, PCRI, the Rental Services Commission, the Human Rights Commission, SW Corridor Tenant Leadership Group, the Fair Housing Commission, Pacific Screening, National Association of Professional Background Screeners, Cascade Property Management, ARC Transitions, IRCO, and Tim Pitts with Think Real Estate.
I want to thank the people and organizations who gave testimony or sent in letters of support including Unite Oregon, members of the Portland for Everyone Coalition, Coalition for Communities of Color, Portland African American Leadership Forum, Oregon Public Health Institute, JOIN, Cully Housing Action Team, Bridge Housing, Catholic Charities of Oregon, Rental Providers for Positive Change, Hacienda CDC, Housing Development Center, Madeline Kovacs, Rose CDC, and small landlords like Henry Kramer and others who stuck their neck out within their own industry to support tenants.
I want to thank the external parties and elected officials that lent their endorsements of our work including PolicyLink, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, County Chair Deborah Kafoury, County Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson, Sharon Meieran, and Susheela Jayapal, and Metro Councilors Bob Stacy, Sam Chase, and Shirley Craddick.
I want to thank my colleagues for their time, their advice, and their support of this complex issue we asked them to face head-on. I know it wasn't easy to absorb and understand what took us a couple years to create. In particular, I want to thank Commissioner Hardesty and Commissioner Fish: I’m grateful for the trust they put in the community and us. Thank you to the Mayor for allowing Cupid Alexander and the Portland Housing Bureau to attend many development meetings and for lending input into the final drafts.
Finally, I want to thank my Director of Policy, Jamey Duhamel, for spending the better part of the last two years developing these policies and weaving her way through all the organizations, housing providers, advocates, and lawyers to arrive at where we are today. And to my entire team for fielding calls, directing traffic, pushing out our message, and for always upholding our values with everyone who engaged with our office.
I am proud of the policy our office helped create with the community, and I am excited to see how it changes the way tenants access housing over time. We know it will take time for tenants to understand and for the industry to adjust. We know some fine-tuning will be necessary. But we also know that research and data have laid a solid foundation for the decisions we made. We know that doing nothing isn't working for people who have long been neglected by those of us who have the power to change it. Whatever challenges we may face, we can feel confident that in the end, we are doing the right thing for the right reasons.
This is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. I vote aye.
I am pleased to announce that Chris Warner has accepted my offer to be the new Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT).
In the fall of 2016, Mr. Warner joined the PBOT team as its Assistant Director. In July 2018, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman appointed him to be PBOT's Interim Director. Director Warner brings over twenty years of public sector management and transportation policy expertise to his position. As a policy and technical expert, he has worked at the local, state, and federal levels for Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senator Ron Wyden, Representative Peter DeFazio and City Commissioner Steve Novick.
I chose Director Warner because he shares my commitment to safety, equity, and sustainability, as do most Portlanders. He understands how difficult it will be to reorient our transportation system to meet the challenges of the future, and I know that he is more than up to the task. He knows our city, he knows PBOT, and he has the skills and experience necessary to turn ideas into actions.
Director Warner has earned a reputation for quiet competence and hard work, but I'm excited to see him assert his bold vision as he transitions into the permanent role. At my request, Director Warner developed and instituted a new protocol at PBOT to respond immediately to fatal crashes with safety improvements where needed and public notification. He also deserves credit for PBOT's Gravel Street Service that addressed a problem that has frustrated a generation of politicians, policymakers, and community members. Finally, the accelerated timeline on the implementation of Portland's Central City in Motion project is just one of many examples to come of what we can get done together when the values and vision of a Director and Commissioner-in-Charge align, especially with broad community support.
The City of Portland's Bureau of Human Resources (BHR) led a nationwide search for a new PBOT Director. The search attracted talented national and international candidates. Twenty panelists from more than a dozen different organizations participated in the selection process.
Thank you to BHR, the incredibly talented and dedicated team at PBOT, and all the individuals who helped me make this important decision.
Let's get to work Director Warner!
My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones devastated by the terrorist attack in New Zealand. This tragedy is a stark reminder that white supremacy kills, and even though this act of violence took place across the globe it hits close to home. It is appalling, and no person should fear for their life anywhere in our community – particularly a house of worship.
If you experience or witness hate-motivated violence, particularly Islamophobia given these events in Christchurch, please report it and learn about additional available resources through Portland United Against Hate’s ReportHatePDX.com. They offer reporting tools, access to resources like counseling, victim advocacy, and training opportunities from 13 community-based organizations.
We cannot forget that many of our Muslim neighbors, friends, and family are targeted daily here in Portland. I want to say to the Muslim community in our city that Portland stands with you: you are welcome here, you are treasured, and we will protect you.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Over the next two months, we have the chance to shape the transportation future of our city, and I’m urging you to take it.
In mid-February, the 30-day public comment period for the environmental assessment of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project will open. On March 7th, a Public Open House will be held, followed by a Public Hearing on March 12th. We have been successful in delaying forward movement on the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project in order to allow the community time to mobilize on this issue, and we are continuing to push for an extension of the public comment period to maximize public engagement. And we are working with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to form a steering committee to advise on thoughtful, community-oriented execution.
We are prioritizing public engagement because this project is one of the most significant transportation efforts in recent years. It will have an enormous impact on how people from across the region and even across the state travel to, through, and around Portland. I want to ensure that this project reflects our values, particularly our commitment to equity, sustainability, and safety.
ODOT and other state transportation leaders need to hear that the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project must do more than make it easier to merge on highways in the Rose Quarter. Consistent with Central City 2035 (adopted by City Council in May 2018), a project that focuses exclusively on the comfort of highway drivers is unacceptable. This is why the City partnered with ODOT to ensure that this venture prioritizes the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. It should make it dramatically easier and safer for people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving in the Rose Quarter.
I also want them to hear that this development must reconnect the Lower Albina district with the rest of the Rose Quarter. The original I-5 project went right through the heart of this vibrant African American neighborhood, isolating it from the rest of the city and cutting it off from economic development in the Rose Quarter. It’s time that we begin to remedy the harmful legacy of these past decisions. The I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project should be a catalyst for a flourishing Lower Albina that shares in our city’s economic vitality.
I am confident that if we raise our voices together, we can continue to make improvements. Remember how this project started out: in 1987, when redevelopment was first proposed, it was an old-fashioned highway expansion project. It would have had tremendous impacts on surface streets in the Rose Quarter and also would have done very little for the safety and comfort of people traveling on local streets. Finally, it would have maintained the isolation of Lower Albina.
But that is not where we ended up. Instead, Portlanders pushed for a better project. They participated in countless committee meetings, planning sessions, and open houses. Gradually, we evolved from a freeway-focused project to one with fewer community impacts and safer and more accessible local connections.
Now is the time to push this evolution further and faster. Please join me during the public comment period, at the Public Open House, and at the Public Hearing, to advocate for an I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project that works for all of us.