Dear Friends and Neighbors,
If you want to know the strength of our community, volunteer at one of our emergency shelters. I did so in early January, when our region was hit with freezing temperatures and snow. It was a perfect demonstration of the selflessness of many in our community - and particularly our county and city employees - who spent hours helping people stay safe and warm.
It also illustrated how incredibly valuable a roof over one's head can be. While I was at the shelter, we were closing down and cleaning up as temperatures outside increased. A woman who had spent the night at the shelter was still sitting outside of the building. She expressed gratitude for the work we were doing to provide a place for people to be when temperatures were so very cold. Although she had been given supplies before the shelter closed and was offered connection to other shelters, she decided to stay outdoors that day. It was difficult to know that she would be staying out in the still cold weather and underlined the challenge of offering shelter and housing solutions that can meet the needs of everyone living on our streets.
The challenges of our housing crisis were made even clearer a few days later, when I co-hosted a town hall with state Representative Andrea Valderrama on affordable housing. We were joined by new ECONorthwest President Lorelei Juntunen, who studies housing policy.
The big takeaway from our town hall is that we have produced way too few housing units (Oregon ranks 49th in our ratio of units to households, an indicator of a severe lack of supply). That shortage impacts the entire housing market: Without enough housing supply at all price points, people cost-burden themselves, paying more and more for housing and driving up prices at all levels. This impacts other household expenses, and is a detriment to the overall economy.
But the burden falls heaviest on lower income households, who are forced to make trade offs between housing and healthcare, child care, food, and other needs. In order to alleviate this housing crunch, our state would have to double the production of all housing units, and triple the production of affordable units, just to catch up.
This high cost of housing then puts tremendous stress on our other government services: housing vouchers are in even shorter supply; low income workers and seniors can't stay housed and end up in shelters, leading to fewer available shelter beds; fewer beds means more people sleeping on the streets, facing severe traumas and needing additional social services to obtain stability. It creates and fuels a terrible cycle.
There are steps we can take, and the housing measures voters passed in 2016 and 2018, as well as the 2020 supportive housing services measure will make a meaningful impact and help people obtain housing and stay housed.
Multnomah County will also soon bring online a data tracking system that will enable us to hold our system and our partners accountable, make smart strategic investments, and move more people from homeless to housed. We've also invested record amounts, including unanticipated revenues just this November, in this crisis, adding shelter beds, motel spaces, outreach workers, and behavioral health resources.
Yet the entire west coast is experiencing high levels of homelessness, which is why state and federal help is needed.
Oregon lawmakers will be meeting next month, and are poised to consider a $400 mil package of investments in affordable housing and assistance for homeowners. Similarly, the Build Back Better Act that Congress is now considering passing piecemeal, includes the largest investment in affordable housing in U.S. history, as well as critical rental assistance funding. Right now, we are forced to ration our rental assistance vouchers because we simply don't get enough. If you're income eligible, you should receive rental assistance. We need state and federal action, and I hope we will see it soon.
In your service,
PS: If you’d like to watch a recording of the town hall on affordable housing, you can do so here.
In the Community
I was fortunate to join two community celebrations to honor the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I attended Congregation Beth Israel’s Shabbat Services and The Skanner Foundation’s 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast. Unlike previous years, I participated in these events virtually, and was sad to miss the opportunity to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with faith leaders, community organizers, and other elected officials, but felt a strong sense of community through the speeches, reflections and songs dedicated to Dr. King and the beloved community he envisioned.
I also attended the Vietnamese Community of Oregon’s Lunar New Year Festival. We’re fortunate to have a strong, thriving Vietnamese community, who contributes to the cultural vibrancy and diversity of Portland, and particularly here in east Portland and along 82nd Ave. Like all of our communities, our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities deserve respect and gratitude, yet in the last year tragically they’ve been met with hate and violence. Anti-AAPI attacks, xenophobia, and racism will not be tolerated in our community. I am grateful for the opportunity to join this festival and celebrate our Vietnamese residents who have given back to our east Portland community in so many ways. I hope the year of the Tiger brings resilience, the courage to do difficult work in service of others, ambition, and the energy to seek progress.
Earlier this week, I visited the Mid-County Health Clinic. This clinic serves hundreds of community members every day, including nearly all new refugees in Oregon, and treats patients speaking more than 80 languages, all in a space that is much smaller than what they need. The work the clinic’s staff have done to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and their shortage of space is a remarkable demonstration of the work ethic, dedication, and ingenuity of our county employees. I’m very grateful for their service to our community.
New District 3 Boundaries
After the decennial census, the Multnomah County Auditor redraws the County Commission’s district boundaries to account for population shifts. Earlier this month, the Board voted to adopt the new boundaries, which take effect in February.
This map shows the new district boundaries: https://www.multco.us/commissioner-vega-pederson/district-maps. Previous boundaries are displayed in red, and the new boundaries are in purple/blue.
My district will be growing, with my district adding areas in the Reed, Creston-Kenilworth, Richmond, Sunnyside and Eastmoreland neighborhoods as far west as 99E. To my newest constituents, welcome! I’m looking forward to visiting these new neighborhood associations and learning about community needs. I encourage you to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, concerns, or thoughts.
Stay Up-to-Date on Preschool for All
Multnomah County’s Preschool and Early Learning Division is starting a monthly newsletter to update educators, service providers, and interested community members on the latest announcements in implementing our universal preschool program. Sign up here to receive this newsletter!
Library Spaces for Teens
As part of our library bond improvement efforts, you can join the Winter 2022 Your Street, Your Voice cohort as they share their work designing teen spaces for the Holgate and Midland libraries. This event will take place Thursday, February 10th from 4-6pm,
You can find more information and register for this free event here.