Sworn in for a second four-year term Thursday, Jan. 5, Commissioner Susheela Jayapal reflected on the challenging times Multnomah County faced during a worldwide pandemic — and all of the work that she said deeply confirmed her reasons for seeking office four years ago.
“The pandemic confirmed the problems that led me to run for office,” said Commissioner Jayapal, who was reelected to the Board of County Commissioners in May 2022 after serving North and Northeast Portland since January 2019. “Our collective response to the pandemic confirmed that we can tackle big problems.”
She says she ran for a second term last year because she believes the County can continue to solve — or at least move the needle on — big problems in our community.
“Homelessness. Community safety. Climate change. Income inequality. Racism,” she said, adding that maybe they can’t be completely solved “in the lifetimes of those sitting in this room. But we can make significant progress, and we can make an incredible difference in the individual lives of the people in our community.”
Jayapal noted she took office four years ago advocating for local funding to help with long-term rent assistance, a way to prevent and end homelessness. Today, she said, she’s proud to be able to tell people in other jurisdictions that our community now has that local funding, thanks to the Supportive Housing Services Measure.
“There are thousands of people who are housed today because of the SHS measure and because of the work the Joint Office (of Homeless Services) has done to get those programs up and running,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “And there is much, much more to do.”
Commissioner Jayapal says she will continue to serve on the Supportive Housing Services Community Oversight Committee and on the Tri-County Planning Body for the ballot measure. Both panels work to oversee and better align regional services.
“The County cannot address homelessness alone, however,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “Homelessness is a symptom of a much larger set of issues that require city, state, and federal attention and funding, and I will advocate for that attention and funding.”
Commissioner Jayapal reaffirmed her commitment to addressing public safety, focusing on root causes of crime and violence and connecting people with the services they need to break the cycle of criminal legal system involvement.
She says her office will also continue work on clean air and climate resilience.
“We need to address the legacy of pollution in BIPOC and low income neighborhoods, and ensure that everyone can breathe clean air,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “I partnered with Commissioner Vega Pederson to expand our woodsmoke ordinance, and we’ll continue to monitor that implementation and policy development.”
Commissioner Jayapal said she’ll also keep pushing to address diesel emissions and their sources, like new shipping warehouses proliferating throughout the community, particularly in low-income and BIPOC neighborhoods.
She says she’s also pleased to be taking on a new portfolio in her second term, transportation.
“The County has an important role to play in charting the course for our regional transportation system,” Commissioner Jayapal said. “And we have a bridge to build: It’s vital that we secure funding for a seismically resilient Burnside Bridge.”
Born in India, Commissioner Jayapal came to the United States at 16 to attend Swarthmore College, graduating with a degree in economics. After two years as a financial analyst at an investment bank, she earned a law degree at the University of Chicago Law School. She was a litigator in San Francisco and Portland before becoming General Counsel at adidas America.
She left law to spend nearly two decades working in nonprofit leadership positions with community organizations before running for County office. She represents the Board on numerous committees. She is also co-chair of the Domestic and Sexual Violence Systems Accountability Workgroup and is a liaison to the Regional Arts & Culture Council.
The mother of two now-grown Grant High School graduates, she lives in the Sabin neighborhood of Northeast Portland.