Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Monday, June 1, 2020
More Than Half of Washington State Counties Get OK to Reopen; King County to Apply for Modified Phase 1
Meanwhile, County executive Dow Constantine announced Friday that King County will apply for approval to enter a modified Phase 1 reopening.
This week: Landlords grow concerned over the upcoming end of increased unemployment benefits; King County sees mixed results from homeless hotel housing as Portland mulls a similar plan.
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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Oregon held its primary election on Tuesday, May 19th, and several races in the Portland area are now headed to runoffs. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler fell just short of the 50% he needed to avoid a runoff election with competitor Sarah Iannarone, who garnered 23.8% of the vote. And while Carmen Rubio handily won the race for Position 1 with 67.6% of the vote, the races for Positions 2 and 4 were much tighter. In the race for Position 2, Loretta Smith will face Dan Ryan in a runoff in November. Incumbent Chloe Eudaly received 31.3% of the votes for Position 4, while Mingus Mapps received 28.6%, and former Mayor Sam Adams received 27.7%. Eudaly and Mapps will face off again later this year. Mike Schmidt, a progressive candidate for Multnomah County District Attorney, won in a landslide victory over Ethan Knight. Still, a runoff will be held between Adrian Brown and Rima Ghandour for a Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge seat. Also, the race for the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State was so tight that many news outlets had to issue corrections after calling it for Mark Hass Tuesday night. By the time all ballots were counted on Wednesday, Shemia Fagan was declared the winner with 36% of the vote. Voters also approved several ballot measures – the Metro homeless services measure won with 53.8% of the vote, the Centennial and Canby school districts passed construction bonds, Wilsonville residents set term limits for City Council, and Washington County passed a library levy. Beaverton residents signed off on significant changes to their city charter. In Baker City, residents voted to sell an old backhoe. In all, a record number of ballots were returned statewide, though the percentage of eligible voters who turned out fell just short of the 2016 primary.
- Oregonian – 2020 Primary Election: Oregon Results
- Oregonian – 5 Takeaways from Oregon’s Primary Election
Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that the state legislature is now ready to start distributing the $8.5 million it allocated to rental assistance for low-income tenants. 18 local agencies have been charged with distributing the funds – these agencies are located throughout the state. They are typically county or regional level housing or service agencies, such as the Lane County Human Services Commission and the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council. Multnomah County’s Department of Human Services was given $1.6 million of the funding and is working on a system to ensure that the money is distributed equitably and efficiently. Renters who make up to 50% of area median income are eligible for the relief, which will be allocated based on need. Renters must show proof of a loss of income, but the type of evidence required will vary by agency. When a tenant is approved, the funds will go directly from the agency to the tenant’s landlord. OPB – Oregon Made $8.5 Million Available to Pay Rent. Here’s How to Get It
Earlier this month, most of the counties across Oregon were allowed to re-open businesses according to the Governor’s Phase 1 plan. But Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Polk, and Marion counties were unable to open at that time. Last Wednesday, Governor Brown gave the go-ahead to Marion and Polk counties, which were able to partially re-open on the 22nd, despite having some of the highest rates of new infections statewide. Marion County, which boasts the highest prevalence of infections, had 879 confirmed and likely cases at the time of the Governor’s announcement. 24 county residents have died. In the Portland Metro Area, Clackamas County also applied to begin re-opening businesses on the 22nd, but as of Thursday, the Governor had not responded to the county’s request. Washington County asked at the end of the week. Officials in both Washington and Clackamas Counties emphasize that even if their applications are approved, they may not open immediately. Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington stated that they are working to onboard 142 new employees who will be engaging in various aspects of contact tracing, and the county will not open until all of these new hires are trained. Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard cautioned that the state may have acted too hastily in allowing all retail stores to resume operations. Both Harrington and Bernard plan to continue monitoring the number of new cases to ensure it is safe to start opening more businesses. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury stated that the county needs $75 million over the next year to meet the criteria set out by the state. Under the CARES Act, Portland received $114 million while Multnomah County, which has been spearheading the public health response for the region, received just $28 million. Kafoury is negotiating with the city of Portland as well as the state to secure the necessary funding before applying to re-open according to the Phase 1 plan.
- Portland Tribune – Multnomah County to Brief Portland on Reopening Plans
- Portland Tribune – Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas Reopening Timelines Vary
- Oregonian – Oregon Governor Approves Phase 1 Re-opening for Marion, Polk Counties
The Lake Oswego City Council voted last Tuesday to allow the owners of the Marylhurst University campus to rezone their properties to turn a portion of the school into affordable housing. Also, the Council authorized the City Manager to waive application fees for the project. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary own both the Marylhurst campus and a nearby retirement community called Mary’s Woods. The Sisters issued a statement indicating that the planned affordable housing would primarily be reserved for employees of Mary’s Woods – they argue that housing local employees on the campus would mitigate traffic congestion on Highway 43 and boost housing supply in the area. In addition to providing affordable housing, the Sisters plan to maintain historic structures on the Marylhurst campus and designate areas for nonprofit uses. Open spaces would be made available for public use.
- Portland Business Journal – Affordable Housing Slated for Part of Former Marylhurst University Campus
- Portland Tribune – Lake Oswego Oks Marylhurst Campus for Affordable Housing
As problems persist at Oregon’s Employment Department, high profile lawmakers are calling on the state to do more to help vulnerable residents who are waiting on unemployment claims. According to the Oregonian, the average hold time for calls to the department reached 3.5 hours in mid-May, as 50,000 people across the state continue to wonder why they haven’t received their unemployment benefits. Some of these residents have been waiting for checks since March, and many had claims that were erroneously denied. Those who called to check on their applications or fix a mistake have been hung up on or encountered a busy signal. In some cases, they were left on hold for 6 hours. Last Wednesday, US Senator Ron Wyden and US Representative Earl Blumenauer wrote a letter to Kay Erickson, head of the state’s Employment Department, urging immediate action. They wrote that “Failure to clearly communicate and get unemployment benefits out promptly is failing all of us.” As the state jobless rate climbs past 14%, one in eight applicants for unemployment is still in the dark as to when they will receive a check. While Erickson has refused to answer questions, David Gerstenfeld, one of Erickson’s deputies, will testify before a legislative committee this week.
- Oregonian – Average Hold Times at Oregon Employment Department Spike up to 3.5 Hours and Most Calls are Never Answered
- Oregonian – Blumenauer, Wyden Blast Oregon Employment Department for Unpaid Benefits, Dysfunctional Communication
According to the Regional Multiple Listing Service, as of April, pending sales and listings in the Portland Metro Area were down 30% year over year. Meanwhile, closed sales were down 16.4%, and new listings were down 32.4% since April 2019. Between March and April 2020, the number of new listings fell by 17.9%. March and April are usually the peak time for sales in the region. Still, this year the pandemic and the sudden economic downturn due to business closures are having a significant impact on home sale activity. Eric Hagstette, the owner of Inhabit Real Estate, believes there will be a speedy recovery in home sales. And while the number of sales is down sharply year over year, home prices are still up by 4.7%. Hagstette predicts that there will be an increase in inventory as people move out of homes they can no longer afford. He expects to see more REITs and institutional buyers entering the Portland market. DJC – Regional Home Sales Drop amid Economic Shutdown.
Finally, CityLab’s Mimi Kirk interviewed Don Mitchell, author of the new book Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits of Capital about the history of urban homelessness, and what can be done to get people back into permanent housing. Mitchell points out that homelessness has changed since the early 1900s. Previously, homeless residents tended to be migrant workers. The latter would stay temporarily in “skid row” neighborhoods, which were typically home to boarding houses, single room occupancy hotels, and cheap bars and restaurants. By the 1980s, cuts to the public welfare systems and the shuttering of mental institutions contributed to increased homelessness. Residents without homes starting at that point were more likely to be people of color, including women and families. At the same time, so-called “skid rows” were targeted for redevelopment, and many of the affordable housing options like SRO’s were turned into higher-priced apartments or boutique hotels. Mitchell links the history of homelessness to the history of capitalism. He points out that the US was already experiencing a crisis of homelessness before the current public health crisis. He argues that some of the strategies used to mitigate homelessness and poverty between the Great Depression and the early 1970s could be revisited to minimize some of the “meanness” of capitalist systems. CityLab’s interview with Mitchell comes on the heels of a report by Columbia University Economics Professor Dr. Brendan O’Flaherty, who projects a 40-45% increase in homelessness across the nation this year. As the US works to get the economy back on track, it may be worth considering Mitchell’s advice to avoid an unprecedented disaster where 250,000 people lose their homes over the next several months.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Monday, May 18, 2020
The group had sought the removal of the map and list due to inaccuracies, inequities, and burdens.
Over the past weeks the organization has expanded its coalition to include the NAACP, Portland Business Alliance, Music Portland, Masonry Building Owners of Oregon, the Old Town Hospitality Group, and the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association.
The organization indicated that Pastor E.D. Mondaine of the NAACP took the lead in the request, by sending the following letter to the Mayor:
Mayor Wheeler and Commissioners:
In 2014, the City of Portland created the Unreinforced Masonry Building (URM) Seismic Retrofit Project to “develop a policy to require the mandatory retrofit of all URM buildings in the city and develop methods to assist building owners to implement the policy.” This initiative was led by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) in collaboration with the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS) and Prosper Portland.
The City hoped to identify funding to mitigate URM buildings, in part to help building owners retrofit their buildings to improve building performance during an earthquake, avoid displacement and to protect Portland’s historic buildings.
On June 13, 2018, during a City Council meeting, a resolution was passed to require—effective March 1, 2019 —the placement of placards on URM buildings. The placards would include a warning to visitors in 30-point bold type that the building may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake. Along with the placards, the City insisted upon recording a document for each affected property containing very problematic language regarding its URM status. As the Council is aware, a coalition of building owners took The City of Portland to court and on May 30, 2019, a federal judge issued an injunction against the placarding requirement.
The Court concluded that the ordinance did not compel purely factual information because it falsely identifies some buildings as unreinforced and erroneously identifies some non-URM buildings as URM. While we are grateful the ordinance was stayed, we find that the issue at the core of our coalition’s complaint has not been fully resolved. The City-maintained URM database list was hastily put together and includes many buildings that, due to upgrades or being falsely identified, should no longer be classified as URMs. For building owners to confirm that they’ve adequately improved the safety of their URMs, it can be prohibitively costly to have an engineer assess the property.
The list is a burden for building owners, making it difficult to secure loans and discouraging investment in the structures. The City of Portland acknowledges the database to be inaccurate and unable to predict building performance in an earthquake, but still requires “conclusive evidence”—a prohibitively high bar—that a building is no longer a URM in order for it to be removed from the list. Thus, the judge stated, “Some buildings, including those owned by two of the plaintiffs, remain on the list despite having been retrofitted with safety improvements.”
The NAACP asks plainly that the City-maintained online URM database list be abolished. The inherent limitations on its accuracy acknowledged by the City render it an irresponsible means of tracking this issue. Judge John Acosta, who presided over the URM placarding case wrote, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they will suffer imminent irreparable harm if they are required to comply with the Ordinance, and that the balance of equities tips in favor of the Plaintiffs and it is in the public interest to prevent the violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights."
Although we are not being ask to placard our buildings, the list still poses a threat to all building owners.
Especially at this time, during a global pandemic and pending depression, our communities are hurting. People are afraid. People are Dying. Sick. Out of work, and overwhelmed. The trajectory of a potential recovery remains uncertain. As such, the call to abolish the online URM database list has become part of our larger call for government, organizations and residents to pull together and have each other's back.
The effects of the pandemic will be with us for years. Efforts toward helping renters and small businesses will be ineffective if building owners walk away and buildings remain shuttered. No amount of relief or aid will help the recovery of our residents and small businesses if there are no buildings open to house them.
And, of course, the disproportionate effect this will have on the Black community through the acceleration of gentrification and displacement remains a looming threat. As the NAACP has pointed out before, the existence of such a list “exacerbates a long history of systemic and structural betrayals of trust and policies of displacement, demolition, and dispossession predicated on classism, racism, and white supremacy.”
The NAACP calls—unequivocally—for the leadership of this city to remove any and all burdens on these property owners and any obstacles to their recovery from this crisis. The existence of the list acts as a modern-day redlining. This regressive action by the City cannot be tolerated under normal circumstances, but is especially intolerable during an economic crisis.
Abolish the list.
VP - NAACP AWOSAC /
President, Portland NAACP
Coalition Partners:The Portland Business Alliance also sent the following letter:
Portland Business Alliance
Masonry Building Owners of Oregon
The Old Town Hospitality Group
Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association & Save Portland Buildings
May 7, 2020
Mayor Ted WheelerCommissioner
Jo Ann HardestyCommissioner
Commissioner Amanda Fritz
City of Portland
1221 SW 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
RE: Database of unreinforced masonry buildings
Dear Mayor Wheeler & Commissioners,
The Portland Business Alliance (the Alliance) is greater Portland’s Chamber of Commerce and represents the largest, most diverse network of businesses in the region. The Alliance advocates for business at all levels of government to support commerce, community health and the region’s overall prosperity. We represent more than 1,900 members, from 27 counties, 13 states and virtually every industry sector. More than 80% of our members are small businesses.
We write today to express our support for the request from the NAACP Portland Chapter, and several other organizations, to abolish the current city database of unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings. The Alliance has supported, and continues to support, the concept of maintaining a well informed and consistently updated database of building conditions based on shared agreements. However, the current list has so many problemsand exacerbates harm from past injustices and inequities, we believe the city needs to take the actions called for by the NAACP and start over.
The problems with the current URM database are numerous, including the following:
1. The current list appears to go directly against the city’s policy of applying a racial equity lens to policy decisions and implementation. The very purpose of maintaining such a list must be clearly communicatedand be in alignment with the city’s racial equity goals, which it clearly is not in its current form.
2. If the purpose of this list were to be developed and agreed upon - with equity at the forefront - between the city, impacted stakeholders, and the community, there would also need to be a plan to develop the initial list, ensure it is “ground truth” and based on clear criteria. This list should also be regularly maintained and updated on to ensure its accuracy. This does not currently appear to be happening. This only reinforces the perception that this list targets certain communities. Additionally, building owners have told us they have non-URM buildings, or buildings that were reinforced to past standards on the list, but the process to remove them is very difficult to fulfill.
3. The maintenance and publication of this list with no specific plan to provide financial incentives and assistance to local building owners to upgrade their buildings gives the strong impression its only current purpose is to shame building owners into taking action many simply cannot afford.
The Alliance is strongly committed to continuing to be a partner in the city’s vital emergency preparedness planning work. Clearly, the entire community has a vested interest in developing a plan to ensure the entire inventory of buildings in Portland are improved to meet minimum standards of earthquake safety as quickly as possible. This is not a problem that can be solved by one sector alone. We must do the difficult work to develop a strong private, public partnership – including help from the state and federal government – to bring URMs up to modern standards. In our last communication to the city, dated 5/15/18, we expressed our opposition to the placarding proposal (which we appreciate was put on hold), and suggested alternative forms of public disclosure that would be tied to a financial plan.
The Alliance would consider supporting the development of a new list, one that is tied to a robust set of financial incentives and assistance, and tracks shared progress on a city-run, public-private retrofit program, with improvements listed, and anticipated dates of completion. This would be a much more positive, community-focused approach with shared accountability and metrics. We will also continue to advocate for state and federal assistance in solving this problem with Oregon’s leaders and congressional delegation.
We are committed to working in partnership with Rev. Mondaine and the Portland NAACP on this issue and will follow his lead on any further discussions regarding the URM list. We urge you to work with the coalition of organizations who joined their call to abolish the current list and begin again.
President & CEOWhile the list has been removed from the Internet, the organizations are awaiting a clarifying statement from City Hall.
This week: Oregon recorded the nation’s second-highest percentage of renters paying on time in May, and the nation’s Congress remains divided along party lines over how soon more cash relief should be provided for families.