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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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Partnerships key to preparing for 'The Big One'

A recent guest column in The Oregonian/OregonLive questioned the City of Portland’s efforts to encourage residents to seismically retrofit their homes. I couldn’t disagree more.

For nearly a century and a half following Portland’s founding in 1851, residents remained blissfully unaware of the seismic danger to the region lurking off the Oregon coast. Homes and businesses, roads and bridges were constructed without a catastrophic Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake in mind. In the 1970s and 80s, this changed as scientists increased their understanding of the danger and building codes began to catch up. And thanks to the widely-read article in The New Yorker last summer, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Unprepared” series, and the efforts of scientists and emergency managers, the public is now more aware than ever that Portland is in earthquake country. Unfortunately the bulk of Portland’s building stock remains vulnerable to a major seismic event.

Getting our built infrastructure ready for the “Big One” requires approaching the issue on many fronts. We should look to adopting new policies and leveraging resources wherever they can be found, driven by a singular goal: saving lives when the ground starts shaking, and getting Portland up and running again as quickly as possible.

Key to achieving this outcome is ensuring Portland homes are safe and livable after a quake. There are an estimated 100,000 older single-family homes in the city limits built prior to 1974 potentially vulnerable and in need of a seismic retrofit. If residents are unable to stay in their homes, there is a legitimate concern they will be forced to move away in a disaster, as happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Although some can afford the typical $3,000-$8,000 retrofit cost, many cannot. The Oregon Resilience Plan– Oregon’s 50-year roadmap to prepare for a Cacsadia quake –identifies this issue and recommends the adoption of programs and incentives to encourage homeowners to retrofit their homes.

Last week, I was pleased to announce that Portland received a $500,000 FEMA pre-disaster mitigation grant, thanks in part to the efforts of Congressman Earl Blumenauer and the other members of Portland’s federal delegation. We are fortunate to receive the award – in 2015, only $11 million was available nationally on a competitive basis. Fortunately, this pre-disaster competitive grant funding was increased to around $50 million in 2016, and I—along with Emergency Management Director Carmen Merlo— will go after every penny of available pre-disaster FEMA resources to help strengthen Portland’s natural and built infrastructure, including homes, businesses and institutions.

Building on a successful partnership between the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) and Enhabit (formerly Clean Energy Works), the pre-disaster grant funds will be available to fund some of the retrofit costs for 150 homeowners. These funds have long-term benefits not just to individuals (by improving the safety and resilience of their homes), but also to the City at large by increasing the number of residents able to remain in Portland after a quake and to FEMA by reducing the amount of money needed for disaster recovery. Ensuring a robust inventory of retrofitted homes is important in a region where housing is already in short supply. Unless we take action, an earthquake could exacerbate our existing housing crisis and force residents to move away.

Portland also needs to address the danger posed by nearly 1,800 unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs), often made of brick. URMs define the character and culture of many of our neighborhoods and business districts. Unfortunately they are also extremely vulnerable to seismic activity. My office has been working with PBEM, Portland Bureau of Development Services, Portland Development Commission, and other community stakeholders to come up with a mandatory URM retrofit policy to keep Portlanders safe, and also consider the historic nature of these buildings. Our neighbors in California have already taken on this problem; it is now time for us to do the same. I look forward to bringing a policy forward for Council to consider in the summer.

Although an enormous amount of work is still needed to prepare us for disaster, we now clearly understand the risk. Every structure built today is engineered for the Cascadia quake. Over time our infrastructure will gradually improve as buildings are upgraded and replaced. But the legacy of 150 years of construction still remains with us today. While we grapple with many important and pressing issues, we must also prioritize investments in Portland’s future by taking actions now to prepare for an earthquake.

Resilience should be seen as the ultimate indicator of Portland’s sustainability. I will continue to seek funding to help keep Portland standing strong after the Big One and continue this program to make it easier for Portlanders to retrofit their homes – especially those unable to pay the entire cost.

Fair Workweek: Stories from roundtable discussion and next steps

In Portland, we have set the example for rest of Oregon when it comes to progressive, worker-friendly labor policies. Portland has led the state with paid sick leave and paid family leave adopted policies, putting pressure on the State Legislature to prioritize similar statewide policies. Oregon also passed a much needed increase to the minimum wage. At $14.75 by 2022, Oregon will have the highest minimum wage in the nation. As we increase the minimum wage, however, we also have to look at other ways to ensure low wage workers can get a full paycheck and tolerable working condition. 

A few years ago, I first started reading about the terrible problems that new scheduling software has created for many workers, especially retail and restaurant employees. The software—now commonly used by many national franchises— is hailed by company execs for its ability to keenly manage workers’ schedules to keep payroll expenses and overhead low. However, these automated computer programs often schedule people for random shifts and then notify workers at the last minute, making it impossible for them to organize their lives, or to have any flexibility to arrange child care and attend college classes.

After learning about these practices, I wondered if Portlanders were also experiencing these same abuses and began researching to find out. Working with my friends at UFCW Local 555 and the Working Families Party of Oregon, we began doing outreach to workers to identify what exactly workers are facing locally.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with several low wage workers from the retail, hospitality, and service sectors of Portland’s workforce. These workers shared heartbreaking stories of their experiences with unpredictable scheduling practices. Some workers shared stories of being away from their children due to unpredictable double shifts; others shared stories about retaliation by employers after asking for a schedule that fits with their other job or college courses.

After getting the permission from a few of these workers, I’d like to share these compelling stories of Portlanders experiencing unfair work schedules (names have been changed to protect the privacy of those who shared their stories):


Amanda got a job at a coffee shop after fleeing an abusive relationship. She had an option under victim protection to either keep her apartment or get out of the lease, and Amanda decided to stay there, but she had to have a second job to afford it. The coffee shop promised her a morning shift during the week. Amanda already had a job at a hotel, and she needed the second job at the coffee shop so she could make enough money to afford the apartment and other living expenses.

Working two jobs was very difficult in part because the job at the coffee shop promised her one schedule, but when she began working, that schedule immediately changed. For a while, she couldn’t take many shifts at her hotel job because her coffee shop shifts ended at the same time she would have needed to start at the hotel, leaving no commute time.

Amanda also said she’d give the hotel her availability, actually get scheduled for hours, and then the coffee shop would change the schedule on her all of sudden – creating conflicts. Later, the coffee shop changed her schedule so she started at 3:30 a.m., and she was able to work more hours at the hotel. While she was glad to be able to earn more, this meant she worked very long days with only three or four hours of rest for up to three days at a time.

She says that when she finally had a day off, she started setting an automatic alarm clock every morning because she would sometimes lay down for a nap and end up sleeping for hours. Amanda held these two jobs for two years and was glad to be able to quit the coffee shop job when her living situation changed – but she still struggles to pay her rent when she doesn’t get as many hours at the hotel as she needs.


Patrick is a single parent of a two year old girl named Jennifer, who is, he says, the love of his life. He’s worked as a driver-helper on a really tight schedule for about two years for a company that caters flights at the airport. Driver-helpers are under a lot of pressure to keep flights on time, because every minute a flight is delayed costs the company money. Patrick normally works 10 hour days, 5 days a week, 50 hours a week or more. He’s even worked up to 76 hours in a week.

One day, Patrick had just gotten off a shift at 3:00pm when he was stopped by a manger.

She said, “I need to talk to you.”

Patrick said, “What did I do now?”

She said, “It’s not like that.”

Even though she had said that, Patrick still felt defensive. She told him he was going to take over a new shift.

He asked her, “Starting when?” and she said, “Tomorrow morning at 6:00am.”

Patrick asked her, “Were you even going to tell me?”

She replied, “I’d figure you’d say yes anyways.”

Even though Patrick had already worked a 12-hour day— starting at 1am getting off at 3pm— Patrick was supposed to be back at work at 6am and needed to take care of his daughter. The next morning, he woke up late and still worked an 8-hour shift. The manager wrote him up for oversleeping. This has happened to Patrick seven other times.

Whatever the team needs, Patrick does. He’s a selfless and hardworking employee, but his work ethic sometimes hurts Patrick’s personal life. He misses his little girl, and his bowling game suffers. Most of all, he just doesn’t get enough rest. Patrick is tired all the time. When he does get a day off, it takes him a whole day just to recover before having to go back to work. If he could wave a magic wand, he’d change this to be treated fairly and like a person— a person who has a family and a life outside of work.


Sarah, a Certified Nursing Assistant in Portland, averages thirty-two hours of work a week. However, those hours are unpredictably scheduled, and she’s expected to maintain open availability to work additional hours. She often has less than 24 hours’ notice of her schedule, and it is not uncommon for Sarah to arrive to work only to be turned away.

Sarah’s unpredictable schedule has major impacts on her family. She and her husband struggle with childcare and with spending quality family time with each other. They are constantly anxious about getting scheduled at the same time and before the daycare center opens. She and her husband have even been written up at work because without adequate notice of their schedules, they did not have enough time to coordinate childcare and were late to work because they had to wait for the daycare center opens to drop off their daughter.

Sarah loves her family. She wishes she had to more time with them. When she is not working she is often sleep deprived and feels like she has to choose between getting one or two hours of sleep or spending time with her daughter.

These are just three of the outrageous and incredibly powerful stories I heard last week. If you have experienced similar challenges with your work schedule, I encourage you to share your story.

Fair workweek laws are one strategy we must consider to move us toward better worker protections. If a worker is scheduled for a shift and is sent home at the last minute, the employee should be compensated - it's their time, and it's that simple. Currently, the Legislature has preempted cities from adopting any laws related to employee scheduling through July 2017 in order to attempt to pass a statewide bill during the 2017 session. I'll be watching Salem closely, and I hope they are able to pass a strong statewide bill in 2017.

New Reduced Rate Swing Shift Pass for SmartPark Garages

Transportation equity has been a top priority of mine since I was assigned the Bureau of Transportation in 2013. The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), in conjunction with several stakeholders, developed a new monthly “Reduced Rate Swing Shift” SmartPark pass. This pass will be made available to workers earning low wages and working swing and evening shifts downtown. This program is a small but meaningful step towards improving access to affordable transportation options for all Portlanders.

When the Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat and I launched a committee to develop a citywide parking strategy in January 2015, we focused on updating our long term-strategy for parking. We charged the committee with recommending changes to the Central City 2035 Plan, zoning code, Title 16, and existing parking policies and practices. But when the committee, comprised of representatives from businesses, neighborhoods, institutions, and community advocacy organizations, told me that on-street parking occupancy in the central city had reached 95% in some areas, I agreed that something needed to be done while we continued to work on our long-term strategy.

In February 2016, PBOT increased the on-street hourly parking rate in downtown from $1.60 to $2.00 per hour based on the subcommittee recommendation. This increase allows on-street parking rates to catch up to local transit fares and SmartPark garage rates, which have increased several times since on-street parking rates were last raised in 2009. While raising rates is never popular, the data showed that pricing on-street parking to meet demand would give Portlanders better access to businesses, shopping, and the other amenities Downtown has to offer.

In a testament to the importance of a well-selected committee, members of the subcommittee asked PBOT to consider the potential impact of the rate increase on employees earning low wages and working swing and evening shifts. First, because swing and evening shift workers are not adequately served by public transit and must rely more heavily on personal transit methods than day shift workers and, second, because the on-street parking system is not equipped to support the high volume of long-term parking that swing shift workers demand.

PBOT collaborated with the Portland Housing Bureau and Multnomah County Human Service’s Housing and Anti-Poverty Programs on eligibility requirements for a new “Reduced Rate Swing Shift” SmartPark pass. The old swing shift pass ranged between $90 and $100 a month, depending on the SmartPark location, and the new reduced rate swing shift pass will be only $35 per month. The new rate will be available to individuals meeting an annual income threshold of $35,000 per year, which is roughly 300% of the federal poverty guidelines, and will save a full-time worker approximately 65% over parking on-street.

This program takes advantage of the low SmartPark occupancy in the evenings and will free up on-street parking for short-term evening parking in the city’s center.

As development brings more density and places more demand on our existing on-street parking, we need to better manage on and off-street parking and integrate more robust walking, biking, and transit facilities. We also need to develop innovative and context sensitive tools to address parking impacts throughout our city—something I’m hopeful the Central City Parking and Centers and Corridors Stakeholder Advisory Committees will be able to address through their recommendations.

For more information about the “Reduced Rate Swing Shift” SmartPark pass program, visit

Housing Emergency and Bureau of Transportation permit requirements for new homeless shelter space

On October 7, 2015, City Council adopted a Housing Emergency. The Council’s declaration indicated that the duration of the emergency would be for one year unless extended for longer or terminated sooner as prescribed by City Code. The Housing Emergency declaration cites increasing and high rents, an increase in the number of people who are newly homeless, and an inadequate number of emergency shelters to accommodate the number of people experiencing homelessness. The declaration is intended to address the shelter needs of the homeless on a short-term basis to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.

It has come to my attention that Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) sidewalk improvement and other requirements can be a barrier to the development of new and expanded emergency shelter space. Given the City’s Housing Emergency and as Commissioner in charge of PBOT, I am directing staff at PBOT to exercise discretionary authority to consider granting waivers for requirements triggered by improvements that will expand homeless emergency shelter space in Portland. This direction applies only to sidewalk improvement and other requirements triggered by projects primarily intended to expand homeless emergency shelter space. It should not be interpreted as a reason for PBOT to consider waivers of requirements triggered by a development that doesn’t immediately and directly expand homeless emergency shelter space.

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