02-06-2023  6:25 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 15 April 2022

The Metro Council represents nearly 2.2 million people in the counties of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington. Councilors must weigh and reflect the interests of 23 cities – no small feat during a pandemic recovery period.  

With the May 17 election fast approaching, we asked Portland-area Metro Council candidates to weigh in on some of the most factious issues the city  is confronting: homelessness, housing affordability and racial equity.

METRO COUNCIL PRESIDENT

Lynn Peterson (incumbent)

Current Metro Council president Lynn Peterson previously served as Washington state’s Secretary of Transportation, chair of the Clackamas County Commission, on the Lake Oswego City Council, as senior transportation to then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, as a travel forecaster for Metro and as an engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.  

 

What do you hope to accomplish with a second term as Metro Council President?  

The next four years are critical to this region. We need to continue the good work that has already been done with the funds from the Affordable Housing Bond and the Supportive Services Measure to work towards ending chronic homelessness, we need to move forward with the critical infrastructure projects that will keep this region moving to jobs, services, housing, etc. And we need to have an open, honest conversation leading up to the Urban Growth Boundary decision in 2024 about the average wage in this region, the types of jobs we want to attract to raise the average, and the land use needed to both attract those industries and raise the supply of housing to lower the average housing cost and bring wage and housing costs into better alignment. This work cannot be done in a silo. We must bring together all of our public partners as well as the business community and community-based organizations. 

 

What excites you most about working within this form of government?  

I strongly believe in local government and its power to accomplish great things for the people. I strongly believe in collaboration and working together to find answers you cannot find alone. At Metro I get to do both on such a big scale. I get to help find solutions to problems without borders such as racial inequity, climate change and homelessness. I get to help lift up the smallest of our communities and those that have been historically underserved. I get to blend my transportation background, my love of the environment and my belief that we need to listen to those impacted most to find the problems that need to be solved, rather than imposing the solutions we believe are best for them. 

 

How do you think Metro can better center equity in how it governs the more than 1.5 million people in its jurisdiction? 

I am committed to bringing a racial equity lens to all decisions I make, community engagement, tables we set, the people we hire and support and contracting opportunities we have at Metro. To that end I would like to bring to your attention the goals in the Equity Strategy at Metro, and how I have helped meet those goals.

  • Goal A: Metro convenes and supports regional partners to advance racial equity – On all bond measures and levies since I have been on the Council, we have required outreach in the planning and implementation plan to BIPOC communities. Our work is to hear what they need and to put them in a position of decision-making (parks and nature as well as supportive housing services). For the Affordable Bond Measure, outreach was specified but contracting was not explicitly required (that was developed before I was on the council), so I reached out to every mayor and asked for their commitment to update their procurement rules to level the playing field. As a result, a Black-owned firm was chosen as a prime candidate by the City of Hillsboro for their next project. 
  • Goal B: Metro meaningfully engages communities of color – The transportation measure was a huge lift and it centered BIPOC and low-income communities in the measure. We flipped the normal process on its head…normally we and every other region would have gone to the Regional Transportation Plan list of projects and picked a list to take to the ballot of projects defined 5,10, 20 years ago that have been waiting based on old assumptions. At my direction, we gave voice to the people to pick the corridors and what improvements needed to be made. The community investment teams in each corridor included BIPOC community members, thought leaders and business owners. As a result, the 13 corridors represent investment in bus rapid transit capital projects, safe crossings, sidewalks, streetlights, better signalizations, etc. And those corridors and those improvements are now the center of attention between all elected officials in the region for funding such as TV Highway, 82nd and McLoughlin.
  • Goal C: Metro hires, trains, and promotes a racially diverse workforce – We have created a high bar on promoting a racially diverse workforce starting with the women hired for the only two positions (open), chief operating officer and attorney. They are both women and (COO) Marissa Madrigal is Latina. When you hire someone at the top, they bring their lived experience, but they also inspire others to join the organization because they can see potential for advancement. 

We have also made the decision to “build back better” at the venues we manage. We have replaced our state-required minimum wage with a $20 hourly minimum. We have also moved our regional illegal dumping program from use of incarcerated labor to a restorative workforce initiative with the $20 hourly minimum wage as well.

  • Goal D: Metro creates safe and welcoming services, programs, and destinations – Our Parks and Nature bond measure implementation is a good example of the journey toward this goal. We are doing in-depth work with BIPOC communities to make sure people feel safe and the art and signage at our newly opened Chehalis Ridge is a result of this effort to make communities of color feel represented and welcome. We are also doing deep work with indigenous communities in the region around the use of our land for First Foods cultivation and habitat restoration. 
  • Goal E: Metro resources allocation advances racial equity – We have substantially increased the size of the Racial Equity department in order to meet these goals, and in this budget for 2022-23 I have proposed a social innovation director for Metro. The goal is that position will be funded jointly by Metro and foundations. The purpose of the position will be to leverage investments Metro and other agencies are making in BIPOC community generational wealth creation by matchmaking between community-based organizations, philanthropists and grants and foundations to fund programs and projects that the federal, state or local tax dollars can’t help achieve. I have partnered with Coalition of Communities of Color to set this new program up. 

 

How would you like to see Metro tackle the homelessness and affordable housing crisis?  

Metro has already stepped up to begin the fight to end chronic homelessness.

Prior to the Affordable Housing Bond measure in 2018 there was a void in leadership in dealing with homelessness. The crisis is too large to be dealt with individually – we needed the leadership of our regional government to bring all the counties, cities and housing authorities together to end the crisis. Just as it does with transportation, Metro has oversight and leadership to help the region move forward on this together.

The affordable housing bond has already seen over 400 units open with 800 additional under construction and over 2,000 additional units in permitting and pre-construction (phases). In the first year of work, Metro and the seven housing authorities have spent approximately 50% of the funds and are on target to deliver at least 6,000 housing units, over 50% more housing than promised in the measure.

In the first six months of the Supportive Housing Services measure, 1,066 new housing units of the 5,000 promised in the 10-year program have already come online, 1,640 new shelter beds (year-round and seasonal) have entered the system, and over 17,000 households were kept from falling into homelessness. While the success of this measure is tied to intergovernmental agreements with our county partners, the urgency of the issue is driving action, even if at times it is not at the pace we all want to see. 

I have asked, since I can’t direct, (the Metro Policy Advisory Committee) to look into ways cities can reduce costs and permitting time for affordable housing development. They are to come back to the council to update us every three months.

This is also the conversation that I have started as a precursor to the 2024 Urban Growth Boundary Expansion. Metro is in the ideal position to bring together partners around the region to discuss the types of industries we need to attract to bring in living wage jobs, as well as what type of land use and space will be needed for those industries. At the same time, we need to ensure that we have land that is ready to be developed within the UGB to build enough housing at all levels to bring housing costs more in line with median wages. 

 

What are your thoughts on the current state of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project? 

The bridge should be right-sized. Throughout my career as an elected official, government transportation leader and non-profit advocate, I have worked to redesign projects that do not incorporate climate and racial justice. 

I have worked hard to orient the Metro Council to lead on issues of climate equity and environmental justice—making clear to local and state partners that proposed investments are not just projects for mobility, but must serve the people and places that connect to them. 

Specific to Rose Quarter and the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project, we are asking that the state care more about their own residents’ health and well-being than those driving from California to British Columbia. None of the metrics the state has used in the past prioritize people, equity and climate change. As the bridge program moves forward, I will continue representing the council on this project according to the values, outcomes and actions document that we sent the project to minimize negative impacts on our communities.  

Alisa Pyszka

Bridge Economic Development president Alisa Pyszka grew up watching poorly planned urban sprawl overtake farmlands and weaken the central core of Kansas City. After completing her master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Kansas, she immediately moved to Portland – attracted, she told The Skanner, by the city’s urban growth boundary and regional government.

Pyszka has taught at Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs and previously served as economic development manager for the city of Vancouver and a member of the Metro Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee, as well as serving as a member of the Metro Equitable Housing Grant Committee.

 

Why are you running for this Metro seat? 

I’m specifically running for president, because in terms of driving the culture and the agenda of the organization, that really comes from the president. And I’m running for Metro because I think our region right now has great potential, but we are really being held back by some key issues. So obviously homelessness is one of those critical issues that everyone recognizes is foremost in needing to be resolved. And since Metro is responsible for the $2.5 billion homeless services bond, it is critical that we are delivering on that money and really helping individuals no longer live on the sidewalk in the conditions they’re in. 

Based on incumbent president Peterson’s background and track record, what has happened is a lot of division with the business community.

I think the transportation bond that failed in 2020 just highlights that. We have got to bring the business sector to the table. I think People for Portland’s latest bond measure just highlights that – we are wasting so much time and energy not solving problems, and there’s just frustration that nothing is getting done. 

So with my background in business and economic development, but also working in government, I believe I’m the right candidate to really bring these diverse voices to the table and move toward action.  

I’m the only candidate that has a background not only in land use and transportation planning, but also economic development and real estate development.  

 

What excites you most about working within this form of government? 

I love this form of government because I think it kind of represents the best of us for being smart and innovative in terms of recognizing land use, transportation, open space, solid waste – all these things function at a regional level. So we should have a regional government. And I think it’s incredible that we have this form of government, but under current leadership we’re not using it to the full degree. 

One, I don’t feel like all voices are coming to the table. The suburban communities feel completely excluded. And two, what’s happened is Metro is now reacting to projects. It’s not being a forward-thinking leader to address regional issues.   

You could even look at Ridwell (a private recycling company that has clashed with multiple municipalities) as a great example. Metro’s responsible for solid waste across the region. Why isn’t Metro figuring out a policy on Ridwell across the region? Why is it devolving to every jurisdiction figuring it out? 

I was just talking to someone from PGE, and every individual community is coming up with a climate resiliency plan dealing with energy. Climate is not a local issue. Why don’t we have one regional plan to really look at this? The Metro’s climate plan right now only talks about transportation. That’s it. And it’s not looking more broadly at what we could be doing about climate. I just think there’s so many missed opportunities, especially around addressing climate change, that Metro’s not tapping into, when it could be leading the region.  

The private sector, they’re the ones creating new forms of energy. They need to be at the table. 

(The Metro climate plan) didn’t include solid waste. How do we improve the cycle? We should be thinking of innovative solutions with our waste treatment. Or with food waste – there’s some innovative projects out in Tillamook right now taking the manure from cows and converting that into new gas. So Northwest Natural could be putting renewable energy into the pipes, rather than natural gas. We could be thinking of really cool new innovative ideas with waste as well for climate change.  

 

How do you think Metro can better center equity in how it governs the more than two million people in its jurisdiction?  

I led the regional economic strategy that included all the Metro region, it was led by Metro and Greater Portland Inc. And the definition of equity in that plan is helping people achieve economic mobility. And we do that in three ways: access to good jobs, you can create a business that thrives, or you own property, commercial or residential, that grows in value. And all that hinges on having a healthy economy. 

So I think it’s really important for Metro to understand its role – government doesn’t create jobs, it creates a great place where businesses can thrive. So it really gets back to the basics of making sure we have infrastructure, we have land, we’re building housing. But also what is not being done – and I’ve seen this, again, with current leadership – is respecting how important business is. Again, we need them. They are vital. And you need customers who have wages – it’s all interconnected.  

So I think the Metro Council president needs to elevate the importance of the economy and business and really act on building the core infrastructure that they need. And that includes, I would say, addressing the homelessness crisis to make sure they can thrive. 

 

How would you like to see Metro address the homelessness and affordable housing crises?  

For homelessness, it’s three things: Metro is in a unique situation, the money is coming through, and each of the counties has a plan. But I see the role of president as really leading and focusing everyone in the same direction. And I think we need to immediately provide more interim housing or shelter, either way. There’s a great project out of California, it’s called DignityMoves, with pods and services. So interim housing, shelter. We have to elevate the need to get people access to mental health and drug addiction recovery. And right now the way leadership – President Peterson – is talking about that is tying those services to permanent affordable housing. Many of these individuals are not in a place to go to permanent affordable housing right now. We have to provide alternative means to those services. So actively increasing that.  

And finally, Metro’s unique role that they do have is tracking the money. Are we getting the right outcomes? And I would argue that the outcome is making sure people are no longer having to live on sidewalks. A lot of the metrics we’re seeing is, are you building shelter beds? Well, we can talk about building shelter beds, but are they being used? What’s the occupancy rate? Is it helping? You hear a lot from providers that individuals don’t want to go to the shelters. Ok, so then what’s that barrier? What can we do to address that barrier?  

The providers don’t even meet. We don’t have a database. We don’t know how many shelters we have. We don’t know their occupancy rates. So I think there’s some really core functions Metro can play in terms of bringing our ecosystem together to get us moving in the right direction.  

 

What are your thoughts on the current state of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project? 

I think the cap’s a great concept, and I think the Albina Vision project is a great project. I’ve been talking to leaders at ODOT and elected officials in the state and what they’re looking to Metro to lead, because there are some complex issues that need to be answered. Who’s going to manage that cap? How are you going to lease out that land? Who gets to build on that land? These are big questions that need to be answered, and Metro needs to get this clearly organized. We need to be having really hard, challenging questions now, so that people don’t have assumptions of what it should be.  

You can’t just vaguely take this to the state for funding without these critical questions answered. So I think it’s moving in the right direction. I think what is missing is Metro’s leadership to answer the hard questions so we can get it built.  

 

METRO COUNCILOR DISTRICT 1 

Ashton Simpson

Oregon Walks executive director Ashton Simpson runs unopposed in a district that includes much of east Portland. The Houston native points to his hometown’s “spaghetti bowl of freeways” as a cautionary tale as he discusses Portland’s lofty I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project:

“Any transportation planner will tell you, you add any new lanes to a highway, it will clog.” 

In his new seat, Simpson seeks to balance pedestrian safety, transportation connectivity and economic development. 

“Number one is we have to pass a transportation measure,” Simpson told The Skanner. “I was on the local investment team in my community that identified six corridors in outer east county where a lot of Black and Brown people live, and now we’re back at square zero in a community where we see a ton of fatalities and near-misses and injuries from traffic violence. You’ve got to remember the streets out here are very straight, flat, wide – they promote speed.

“Speed, wide roads and lighting were key factors in a lot of the pedestrian fatalities that we’ve seen here in the community. This is why we (at Oregon Walks) advocate for complete streets, meaning lighting – adequate lighting, not just lighting – crosswalks with beacons, sidewalks and bike lanes. Complete streets.”

Such considerations, he said, promote “age-friendly communities.”

“We have to acknowledge that we as a society are moving more and more into aging in place, and as we do so, we need to make sure our seniors and our youth have access to things like parks and stores – all the things that prop up people’s quality of life. Infrastructure and design should work first for our elders, our youth and people with physical and mental disabilities. Everybody else in between will figure it out and benefit. It’s all of our jobs as leaders and elected officials to look at these things and take care of our more vulnerable populations first.”  

Simpson has served as a member on the Portland Fix Our Streets Oversight Committee, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Committee, the ODOT Area Committee on Transportation for Region 1 and the Metro Transportation Measure’s Local Investment Team.  

 

METRO COUNCILOR DISTRICT 6

Duncan Hwang

The Metro Council appointed Duncan Hwang in January to fill Councilor Bob Stacey's seat. If elected, Hwang promises to continue to work from a lens of equity and representation.

Hwang is the associate director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) and previously worked as a law clerk in the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office. He has served as a member of the Metro Committee for Racial Equity, the Metro Affordable Housing Bond Stakeholder Committee, Portland’s Economic Recovery Task Force, and TriMet's Low Income Fare Task Force.

 

Why are you running for this Metro seat?

I was appointed in January. I ran originally because of my work in developing affordable housing and transportation advocacy, so those are my biggest priorities as someone who lives and works east of 82nd Avenue. I’ve been working really hard on the jurisdictional transfer for 82nd avenue for the last decade or so, and finally got that over the finish line.

We really wanted to focus on that corridor as well as addressing the homelessness and hosuelessness crisis that we have going on. And to me personally, I bring a needed perspective to Metro Council as someone who comes from an immigrant family. English isn’t my first language. Having those kinds of perspectives, I think, is important in leadership.

I’m also proud to be Oregon’s highest-elected Chinese American. Having the lived experience and professional experience make me a great fit.

I’m going to be really centering community in the decision-making. I’ve done a lot of engagement with Metro in my work at (the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)). I think that’s the primary lens from which I’ll approach work. I’m excited to have endorsements from Color PAC, the Coalition of Communities of color, APANO. I’m proud of my base of support from labor and community groups and lots of businesses as well.

                       

What excites you most about working within this form of government?

I’m really excited to tackle the region’s biggest challenges from a regional perspective. There’s no one city or county that can take on housing affordability or the climate crisis or homelessness, or really planning a transportation system that works for our communities. So being able to work region-wide and working with local jurisdictions to come up with our shared solutions – that’s what’s most exciting to me.

 

How do you think Metro can better center equity in how it governs the more than two million people in its jurisdiction?

I served on the Metro Committee on Racial Equity for about three years, and I was one of the authors of Metro’s Racial Equity Strategy.

I think it’s really sharing power with community, and giving them an actual voice in decision-making.

A lot of it has to do with how we do community engagements: you have to have transportation, interpretation, child care, all those basic things that weren’t really standard practice 10 years ago but now are. Now I think it’s also, how do you build leadership and community capacity to really weigh in meaningfully on the most challenging topic areas? One example was, I worked for a long time on the Division Transit project. That wasn’t a real community priority if you asked folks in east Portland or along 82nd – their jobs are up north in the industrial corridor. So the question was, how come we’re not building rapid transit to the industrial center? If we had done stronger engagement earlier on, we could have designed a transportation system that actually got people to their jobs and where they needed to go.

So it’s really about bringing decision-making to the most marginalized communities, and I’m also really interested in participatory budgeting, having the community weigh in more equally on how we expend public resources and things like that.

Part of it is also just having some really great data about where marginalized communities are and the experiences they’re facing, and really having the political will then to do something about it – whether it’s housing, transportation, or access to nature.

 

How would you like to see Metro address the homelessness and affordable housing crises?

I think we have to use every tool at our disposal. I also work in the affordable housing bond measure, and I think it’s a really important piece of the puzzle to be building programmatic affordable housing. But we’re not going to help solve the crisis that way because the amount of subsidy that’s required to build that type of housing is really high, it’s like two or three thousand dollars of extra subsidy per unit.

So whether it’s land-use planning or zoning, or getting innovative with manufactured homes, using 3d printing, we’ve got to do a lot to increase the amount of housing that’s in our region. We’re about 30,000 to 40,000 units short and falling further behind every year. So we’re not going to be able to build affordable housing, other than increasing the housing stock in general, so I’m really committed to that.

For homelessness I think it’s really about, how do you create a unified system of providers across the region? One, you make sure everyone’s using the same data systems and best practices. I’ve spent my time in office – which is the last three months – really going out and just listening to folks and visiting providers. A lot of new nonprofits have stood up to respond to homelessness, and it’s great to see that energy and people willing to help. But I think there needs to be a lot more investment and standardization in the overall ecosystem of support. I think there’s a lot of capacity-building that needs to be done.

And we can’t do just housing, we need to have the services – mental health services, things like that – to go along with it to actually begin to move people out of shelters to more permanent solutions.

 

What are your thoughts on the current state of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project?

I am glad to see that there’s alignment between the community and Albina Vision Trust in particular, the governor’s office and ODOT. For me, I worked in east Portland on implementing the Jade District Vision, so I know the power of community visions and what they stand for and what they mean to the community. I’m really supportive of that vision for the Rose Quarter. I think now it’s really just about how we pay for it, and that’s what I’m really thinking about as a Metro Councilor: We have this vision for what it could be, but the financing mechanisms aren’t all there yet. I think my role is asking, how do you bring the resources necessary to make sure that the community realizes its vision?

I’m pretty skeptical of highway widening in general, but I think if it’s done well in a well planned way with centering equity, there’s a path forward there.

 

Terri Preeg Riggsby

Terri Preeg Riggsby holds a masters in public and natural resource policy from Portland State University and is working on an additional graduate degree in urban sustainability from Harvard. She lists racial equity and an infrastructure focused on better accessibility as her impetuses to run.

 

Why are you running for this Metro seat?

I’ve been a conservation leader for nearly 25 years here in District 6, where I’ve lived and worked. I’m also a government accountability expert. I have worked as a senior performance auditor under three Oregon secretaries of state, and in doing that, I worked to ensure that our tax dollars are used to deliver the best services to the people who need it the most.

I want to bring that skill set and the focus on data-driven outcomes and accountability and transparency to the work that Metro is doing, especially as it is working to address our crises around homelessness and litter plaguing our community, our businesses. I strongly believe that Metro in particular does have data-driven outcomes that are established and followed through, and I think that it’s really critical now to improve trust in our local governments.

I’ve been a conservation leader for over two decades. I’ve been elected director and chair of the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, and also executive director of the Tryon Creek Watershed Council. I helped to build our new programs around a new source of public dollars, and I have oversight for a multi-million-dollar budget and a staff that has continued to grow as our resources have grown.

And the work that I’ve done in the environmental realm has allowed me to build successful relationships to bridge both urban and rural geographies, and bring together the public and private nonprofit sectors so that we can find mutually beneficial solutions.

On a personal note, I live with a mobility disability that is a result of a spinal injury a few years ago. I spent most of my life as an able-bodied person, and now that I have a mobility disability, I’ve seen such a difference in the way that I need to use public infrastructure. And I really think it’s time that Metro has someone with the expertise and the lived experience of living with a disability. Because 75% of us will experience a temporary or permanent disability during our lifetime. And there is not a single person currently elected in the entire Metro region – city, county, Metro government – that lives with a mobility disability. I recognize that there are some invisible disabilities, so I can’t say for certain that there isn’t anyone elected with any disability, but there isn’t anyone with a mobility disability. I have the support of leaders in the disability arena as well as advocates for seniors, so that we can have a voice that represents this mostly invisible part of the population that gets left behind a lot and is not part of the conversations on how we build our public infrastructure so that it is accessible for everybody.

                       

What excites you most about working within this form of government?

I have a (master of public administration) degree in public administration and natural resource policy from Portland State, and I’m in the process of getting another graduate degree in urban sustainability from Harvard. Metro is such an awesome opportunity for us to be innovative, and to look to the future for ways that we can make real changes around carbon emissions and transportation, and how we build livable components of all of our cities where we have affordable housing that is co-located with public transportation in places that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists, and where we also can access other needs and services.

Especially with my experience working at the Secretary of State’s under Bill Bradbury and Kate Brown and Jean Atkins, I can’t get away from how important it is that we establish measurable outcomes and that we go back to those goals that we’ve set, and see how we’re doing and employ best management practices to make improvements where we need to, and to learn from each other.

I sit on the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, I represent special districts in Multnomah County. I’ve done that for about five or more years now. That is the time when we all come together, elected leaders from the whole metro region, and we’re able to talk about what is not working and what is working and it’s an oppy to learn from each other. I would argue that impact hasn’t been as engaged in a meaningful way as it could be. I think we could do more in the direction of information-sharing and learning from each other what best practices are occurring in each of our cities or counties, and find ways to bridge gaps.

I’m really excited about this form of government because it is an opportunity to collaborate and to identify efficiencies so that we can provide better and more services to the people that need them.

 

How do you think Metro can better center equity in how it governs the more than two million people in its jurisdiction?

I work as general manager of HAKI Community organization, and we provide direct support to community members who are people of color, low income and primarily they’re Swahili-speaking, east African immigrants and refugees.

I came on a couple of years ago to be in the background helping the organization to become more self-sufficient with grant writing and getting the nonprofit status; I’m in the background providing the support to grow the leadership. I think that that is something that Metro can and should do, in two ways: We need to build the resiliency for the community members who are most directly impacted by a whole plethora of injustices and disinvestments in affordable housing, in public transportation, in environmental justice areas, including poor air quality. And so to build that resiliency, I think that we need to be getting out into the communities and really listening to what they want and need. It’s common for the dominant white culture leaders to try to anticipate the needs of our community members and maybe make assumptions that if we translate some materials into their language, for example, that that is a way to address some of the inequities. And that’s just simply not true.

And Metro has two ways I think it can do better. One is as an employer. Because Metro is a really large employer in the region, not only in their headquarters, but in the variety of facilities that they run – the transfer station, the zoo, the expo center, Portland'5 Centers for the Arts, and anytime they’re involved in expanding their facilities and they hire contractors and there’s construction work that occurs. So I think that Metro can do a better job at identifying what the barriers are for people of color in accessing those jobs, because those are good jobs.

And Metro should be a good place for people to work and it should be a place that is accessible for people that want to work.

I’ve done some of that work in the conservation district, and to make sure that we weren’t excluding people that we were hiring, we went through a whole process to identify barriers. There’s some really easy low-hanging fruit around requiring certain degrees – is it really that important that someone who’s going to be doing fieldwork have a graduate degree in microbiology? Probably not. And changing our screening process by removing someone’s name, gender and school that they attended, for example, so that these unconscious biases were taken out as best as we could. I think that Metro can improve its hiring practices in that way.

And Metro does deliver services, but moreover it provides funding and a programmatic structure for other jurisdictions to deliver the services. So for these communities have been disinvested and are most impacted, (Metro should help) to build infrastructure and help them build the bench for leadership so that they can be more resilient.

I’ve been part of the Southwest Equity Coalition for a couple of years now, and that’s an example of an area where I think Metro’s doing well. There are now 32 organizations as part of the Southwest Equity Coalition, and it extends from downtown Portland south past Tualatin, and we have a lot of the voices from the communities that haven’t been at the table before. They are the ones driving the conversations around what they need, where they need affordable housing, the importance of focusing on anti-displacement, especially for our community members that live in naturally occurring affordable housing.

That’s a really big deal – “naturally occurring affordable housing” is generally old apartment buildings that are affordable because they’re kind of run-down and old. And because they weren’t built initially with public dollars, they are not regulated the way that a lot of other affordable housing gets regulated. So if someone comes in and wants to purchase that building, what they build in place of it doesn’t have to be affordable.

And HAKI is focused here because we have one of the largest and oldest mosques here in southwest Portland, so we have a really large population of east African immigrants and refugees who are Muslim and they attend that mosque. So if they were displaced, that would be a problem. We have been working with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to problem-solve and come up with some innovative solutions, so when we do get the funding for investments in transportation and housing, that we’re doing so in a way that isn’t harmful – like requiring a certain percentage of affordability if someone was to come in and purchase one of these old apartment buildings, tear them down, if they rebuild them, we don’t want to lose the number of units and we don’t want to lose affordability. That’s something that’s new and different.

I think Metro can and should be part of conversations like that, identifying innovative ways to support our communities of color. We have 380 tribes that are represented here in Portland, and that’s another opportunity for Metro and other governments to engage with completely disenfranchised, disinvested communities. So I would look to Metro to create partnerships and projects that go beyond just giving access to natural areas to our tribes for traditional practices – by expanding programs or projects based on what the tribes want in a way that is appropriate for restoration and protection of our land for future generations, for example.

 

How would you like to see Metro address the homelessness and affordable housing crises?

I work as general manager of HAKI Community organization, and we provide direct support to community members who are people of color, low income and primarily they’re Swahili-speaking, east African immigrants and refugees. I came on a couple of years ago to be in the background helping the organization to become more self-sufficient with grant writing and getting the nonprofit status. I think that that is something that Metro can and should do, in two ways: We need to build the resiliency for the community members who are most directly impacted by a whole plethora of injustices and disinvestments in affordable housing, in public transportation, in environmental justice areas, including poor air quality. And so to build that resiliency, I think that we need to be getting out into the communities and really listening to what they want and need. It’s common for the dominant white culture leaders to try to anticipate the needs of our community members and maybe make assumptions that if we translate some materials into their language, for example, that that is a way to address some of the inequities. And that’s just simply not true.

And Metro has two ways I think it can do better. One is as an employer. Because Metro is a really large employer in the region, not only in their headquarters, but in the variety of facilities that they run – the transfer station, the zoo, the expo center, Portland'5 Centers for the Arts, and anytime they’re involved in expanding their facilities and they hire contractors and there’s construction work that occurs. So I think that Metro can do a better job at identifying what the barriers are for people of color in accessing those jobs, because those are good jobs. And Metro should be a good place for people to work and it should be a place that is accessible for people that want to work.

I’ve done some of that work in the conservation district, and to make sure that we weren’t excluding people that we were hiring, we went through a whole process to identify barriers. There’s some really easy low-hanging fruit around requiring certain degrees – is it really that important that someone who’s going to be doing fieldwork have a graduate degree in microbiology? Probably not. And changing our screening process by removing someone’s name, gender and school that they attended, for example, so that these unconscious biases were taken out as best as we could. I think that Metro can improve its hiring practices in that way.

I’ve been part of the Southwest Equity Coalition for a couple of years now, and that’s an example of an area where I think Metro’s doing well. There are now 32 organizations as part of the Southwest Equity Coalition, and it extends from downtown Portland south past Tualatin, and we have a lot of the voices from the communities that haven’t been at the table before. They are the ones driving the conversations around what they need, where they need affordable housing, the importance of focusing on anti-displacement, especially for our community members that live in naturally occurring affordable housing.

That’s a really big deal – “naturally occurring affordable housing” is generally old apartment buildings that are affordable because they’re kind of run-down and old. And because they weren’t built initially with public dollars, they are not regulated the way that a lot of other affordable housing gets regulated. So if someone comes in and wants to purchase that building, what they build in place of it doesn’t have to be affordable.

And HAKI is focused here because we have one of the largest and oldest mosques here in southwest Portland, so we have a really large population of east African immigrants and refugees who are Muslim and they attend that mosque. So if they were displaced, that would be a problem. We have been working with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to problem-solve and come up with some innovative solutions, so when we do get the funding for investments in transportation and housing, that we’re doing so in a way that isn’t harmful – like requiring a certain percentage of affordability if someone was to come in and purchase one of these old apartment buildings, tear them down, if they rebuild them, we don’t want to lose the number of units and we don’t want to lose affordability. That’s something that’s new and different.

I think Metro can and should be part of conversations like that, identifying innovative ways to support our communities of color. We have 380 tribes that are represented here in Portland, and that’s another opportunity for Metro and other governments to engage with completely disenfranchised, disinvested communities. So I would look to Metro to create partnerships and projects that go beyond just giving access to natural areas to our tribes for traditional practices – by expanding programs or projects based on what the tribes want in a way that is appropriate for restoration and protection of our land for future generations, for example.

 

What are your thoughts on the current state of the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project?

It was just last week or the week before, we (at Metro Policy Advisory Committee) had a vote on tolling a portion of I-205. I voted no, as did most of my colleagues, and the reason for that is it is not now in the regional transportation plan to implement that project. The regional transportation plan will be updated in 2023, and Metro has an opportunity to revisit transportation goals and to look at various congestion pricing methodologies then. So my opinion of implementing tolling on just a small section of 205 at this time is that it’s not in the long-range regional transportation plan it would impact only a small portion of the population that has to use that portion of 205, and there’s no diversion plan. That’s an example of a big idea transportation project where the details haven’t been determined, and there’s evidence that it would be harmful to the community members – the folks that live in the local communities where people might be trying to go around the toll by taking local roads.

That brings me back to looking at the whole region and all of the transportation projects together, which includes the Rose Quarter Improvement Project and the Interstate Bridge (Replacement) Project. Because we really can’t look at one without the other. They are all part of a single system, and I don’t agree with the approach to look at these all in silos, and say ‘Are we going to do the Rose Quarter project? Are we going to do the interstate bridge? What about 205?’ We have to look at it all together. It is all one system that impacts people that live in all 23 cities and three counties. So my first thought is whatever happens with the Rose Quarter Project and the Interstate Bridge and the 205 tolling, it needs to be part of a holistic conversation.

Getting to Rose Quarter specifically, as Metro councilor, I would want to seek and engage, be guided by the communities that are most impacted by the project – those who live, work and attend school within a walkshed of the project. Because I’m concerned that some of these projects would perpetuate or even worsen health impacts resulting from poor air quality or continued systemic and economic inequalities that result from physical changes to the neighborhoods. And would it displace people from their homes or jobs?

There’s an idea of capping the highway. The proponents of that say we can build two- to three-story buildings on top of it, we can bring more housing. Ok, but let’s think through the details and really get into the weeds of it. That’s what our leaders need to do. They need to understand what are we actually talking about? Because it’s not a hypothetical once you agree to pay for it. Then it’s actually happening, and are these two- to three-story buildings going to be really expensive new housing that people who have lived in and around these neighborhoods for decades can’t afford?

I would work with the Albina Vision Trust, Urban League of Portland, Harriet Tubman/King elementary school communities. I would want to engage in discussions and review all of those projects – Rose Quarter, Interstate Bridge projects – and really identify whether the data show that we need it, and which communities who are most impacted and what do they really feel about that? What does the environmental impact statement say about this Rose Quarter project? And I think that it’s a little too early to say yay or nay, but as a councilor I would definitely take the time to engage with the stakeholders and those community members and ensure that I understood what they want and need before making a decision.

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MLK Breakfast 2023

Photos from The Skanner Foundation's 37th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast.