By Jennifer Shuch
HFO Research Analyst
As Oregon’s May 2020 primary approaches, a large number of local, regional, and national candidates have entered the race with housing as a top priority. Housing affordability, both for renters and homeowners, has become a flashpoint in political debate throughout the country. Rent growth in Portland has begun to slow due to new units coming online. An increasing number of households are rent-burdened–defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as spending more than 30% of household income on rent.
At the national level, public housing investment is well below historical levels. But the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination have all unveiled plans aimed at tackling affordability issues. Former VP and presumptive nominee Joe Biden has a policy calling for $640 billion in investments aimed at helping renters and homeowners.
In the Portland mayoral race, Mayor Wheeler’s reelection may hinge on whether city residents are as enthusiastic about his housing record as he is. An additional three city council seats are also up for election. Most hotly contested is the position held since 2017 by Chloe Eudaly, who campaigned on a platform focusing primarily on issues such as tenant rights and rent control. Metro—a government entity charged with overseeing regional planning, parks, and some major entertainment venues in Portland’s three-county metro area—passed a $652.8 million housing bond in 2018. Metro will ask voters again in May for up to $250 million for homeless services funding. There are currently three races for open Metro Councilor seats.
In light of all this, we have compiled an overview of candidates’ positions on housing issues in races for the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Metro, and the Democratic nominee for U.S. President.
City of Portland
Ted Wheeler is up for reelection as Portland’s Mayor. Among his 18 competitors are leading contenders Sarah Iannarone, Teressa Raiford, and Ozzie Gonzalez. Both Iannarone and Gonzalez have released housing plans, while Wheeler’s website mainly touts what he sees as his most significant accomplishments so far.
On his website, Mayor Wheeler claims that he has more than doubled shelter capacity in the city, prevented 7,000 households from falling into homelessness, helped 6,000 people connect with transitional housing services, and built over 800 units of affordable housing His office has also touted the city’s progress in exceeding its housing bond goals of creating or preserving 1,300 housing units. So far, however, of the 1,424 bond-funded units, only two complexes with 314 total units are open and occupied as of March 2020 While Wheeler’s campaign website emphasizes what the Mayor has accomplished over the last four years, it does not indicate what his plans are for the future if he’s re-elected. And there are differing opinions as to the validity of the Mayor’s claims.
Of Wheeler’s plethora of challengers, both Sarah Iannarone and Ozzie Gonzalez have released housing proposals, and Teressa Raiford limits herself to commenting on demolition and displacement in her platform statement. Iannarone’s housing plan calls for a five-year plan to end the housing state of emergency, which has been in place since 2015. She argues that the city needs a task force to assess housing inventory and resident needs. That city leaders must use this information to solve the problems that are persisting in the city’s housing market. Iannarone also calls for increased communication between city bureaus, nonprofit organizations, and private sector stakeholders. Her plan addresses the city’s taxation system – she advocates for recalibration to eliminate inequities between East Portland and other parts of town, as well as land value and real estate transfer taxes. Iannarone’s housing proposal also focuses on eviction prevention and tenants’ rights. She argues in favor of a tenants’ bill of rights, including the right to organize, and she believes that the city should fund the rental registration system and track eviction rates. Iannarone is in favor of using tourism tax revenue to create a rental subsidy reserve, and advocates for relegalizing SRO’s throughout the city. She is the only candidate calling for a moratorium on the development of self-storage facilities in mixed-use zones, centers, and corridors. She also seeks the reduction of costs and red tape for small-scale building projects.
Like Iannarone, Ozzie Gonzalez advocates for collaborating with stakeholders to tackle housing issues. His housing plan calls on the city to partner with managers, developers, and real estate firms to establish a housing inventory system. Gonzalez’s strategy focuses on development-side issues – he would like to see more incentives for producing a variety of housing types and an emphasis on transit-oriented development. He also believes the city should find new uses for vacant units.
While Teressa Raiford does not have a comprehensive housing proposal, her policy statement, which she calls The People’s Platform, calls for a moratorium on urban redevelopment. She believes demolitions should await the coming together of communities to decide what should be saved or replaced. She pushes back on “demolition, rezoning, and redevelopment,” which she believes serves only “big investors, large corporations, and the high-income earners.”
Portland City Council
Portland City Council Position No. 1, is currently held by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is vacating her seat. Of the nine candidates, Carmen Rubio, Candace Avalos, and Timothy DuBois are the only candidates that have put forth housing plans.
Carmen Rubio is assumed to be the front runner due to the large number of endorsements she has received from local elected officials. Rubio advocates for coordinating with state, regional, and federal partners to address housing affordability, and investing in homeless prevention and anti-displacement measures. She argues that the city needs to increase density if residents want better transit and more affordable housing options, and she stresses the need for data-driven solutions to the city’s problems. In a survey conducted by Portland Tenants United (PTU), Rubio did not commit to advocating for an end to the statewide ban on local rent control policies. While she did not explicitly back the state law, she argued that she would need to be sure that increased rent restrictions would not reduce the availability of affordable housing.
Candace Avalos believes the city should fully fund rental assistance programs and collaborate with service providers to support people who may be on the verge of homelessness. She advocates for an innovation hub dedicated to finding new ways to build affordable housing without subsidies. Avalos also believes that the city should incentivize building affordable housing ‘at scale’ and advocates for streamlining the permitting process. Like Sarah Iannarone, she calls on the council to fully fund the Office of Rental Services, which oversees the rental registration program. Unlike Rubio, Avalos has committed to overturning the state preemption of local rent control policies. Avalos argues that local jurisdictions must be allowed to use whatever tools may help keep residents housed.
Tim DuBois believes the city should do more to increase housing diversity and build more housing near transit and job opportunities. He also argues for a streamlined and expedited permitting process.
Portland City Council Position No. 4 is also up for grabs this year, with incumbent Chloe Eudaly facing challenges from former Mayor Sam Adams as well as professor and prior public servant Mingus Mapps, Keith Wilson and four other candidates. Eudaly defeated incumbent Steve Novick in 2016, mainly by gaining the support of housing and tenants’ rights advocates. During her time as a commissioner, she has advocated for rent control and increased tenant protections. Eudaly’s staff devised the recent FAIR ordinances governing rental applications and safety deposits. As of March, Eudaly has not released a housing policy platform to indicate her priorities should she be re-elected.
Former Mayor Sam Adams has received an endorsement from Smart Growth Oregon, and his housing plan reflects the idea that more housing is needed at all affordability levels to make up for years of underbuilding between 2010 and 2018. While Adams supports the Residential Infill Plan, he believes that the city should also increase density along arterials and near transit stops. He also argues for expediting the permitting process for both affordable and market-rate projects. Adams’s goal, should he be elected, is to bring all stakeholders together to build a long-term plan to determine which type of housing is needed, and who should build it. He also wants to re-evaluate current design rules to make sure they meet city goals. Adams also intends to conduct regular surveys of renters and property owners to track affordability, rent increases, and demographic information, as well as property ROI and the amount an owner invests in updates and maintenance. Adams is also in favor of ending the state preemption on local rent control laws and allowing local jurisdictions to establish individual policies.
Mingus Mapps has released plans on housing and homelessness, both of which emphasize the need for new housing units at a variety of income levels. His Ending Homelessness and Housing First proposal calls for a ban on price gouging in the rental market, as well as an additional 1,500 units of permanent supportive housing. He also believes the city should increase funding levels for short-term rental assistance to keep people in their homes when they may be experiencing temporary setbacks. In his Affordable Housing for All plan, Mapps advocates for fee reductions, streamlining, and faster inspections to increase development activity in the city. He also argues that the city should protect renters’ rights and increase housing density. In his public appearances, Mapps has argued that the City Council has neglected to bring all interested parties to the table to find the best solutions for housing and homelessness issues. In an interview with HFO, Mapps agreed that the city has weaponized housing policy, and made it harder for smaller landlords to operate. He believes the city should do more to understand the consequences of policy decisions.
Also running for Position 4 is Keith Wilson, a University of Portland Business School graduate, world traveler, and President of Portland-based trucking company TITAN Freight. His housing plan focuses on the need for more housing units in the city. He advocates increased flexibility to allow for more SRO, micro, and cohousing units. He also argues for the conversion of single-family homes to multi-generational and multi-family residences and the reduction of development fees.
While an additional four candidates are running for Commissioner Eudaly’s seat on the City Council, none of these contenders have released a housing proposal.
Portland City Council Position No.2. Commissioner Nick Fish passed away suddenly in December. Since then, 13 candidates have filed. Of those candidates, four have housing policy details outlined on their campaign websites, while an additional two mention housing but do not discuss the details of their housing plans. Loretta Smith, who ran against Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty in 2018, is the highest-profile contender in this race. In her brief list of city priorities, Smith states that she will address homelessness through increased supportive services and affordable housing.
Sam Chase, who has been the Metro Councilor for District 5 since 2013, touts his involvement in the creation and passage of the Metro housing bond as a major highlight of his career. Chase’s housing plan includes implementing a plan originally championed by Nick Fish to create 2,000 permanent supportive housing units for homeless residents. He also believes the city should invest in creating new affordable housing, particularly in transit corridors, with infrastructure already in place to support these new units. He also believes that jurisdictions within the Portland Metro Area should be required to build adequate shelter beds and affordable housing. Chase is in favor of lowering the rent increase threshold that triggers the relocation assistance requirement in Portland and overturning the statewide prevention on local rent control policies.
Another frontrunner in the race is Julia DeGraw, progressive organizer, and director of nonprofit lobbying organization PDX Forward. DeGraw’s housing plan, which she calls Housing for All, argues that developers have too much influence on city policy. She believes housing is a human right, and the city should fully fund rental assistance programs as well as the Rental Services Office and build profoundly affordable housing throughout the city. She also argues that the city should go further in outlawing no-cause evictions and do more to enforce recently passed tenant protections—DeGraw advocates for redirecting subsidies to affordable housing projects and community land trusts. Like Candace Avalos, she believes the city should set up an innovation hub to come up with new ideas for producing affordable housing. She also urges the city to explore a vacancy tax.
Also running is a longtime tenant advocate and former head of Portland Tenants United (PTU), Margot Black. Black advocates for lifting the state ban on rent control so that the city of Portland can enact what she refers to as ‘real’ rent control policies. She also advocates for increased tenant protections, including universal eviction defense, and a collective bargaining process for rental agreements. In addition to increased tenant protections, Black is in favor of a ‘housing wage for all’ and argues that the city should improve accountability for public and affordable housing providers.
Both Jeff Lang and James Davis’s proposals focus primarily on homelessness and include big ideas for turning under-utilized city sites as campuses for homeless residents. Jeff Lang argues that the city should turn the Veterans Memorial Coliseum into such a school, including dorms with locking doors, a medical clinic, teaching facilities, and offices for local nonprofits. Meanwhile, James Davis argues that Concordia University, which will shut down at the end of the Spring semester in 2020, should be purchased by the city and operated as a housing-first project. Both Lang and Davis also argue that the city should allow for a wider variety of housing types, including co-ops, SROs, tiny home villages, and intentional communities. Davis believes the city can facilitate this by creating a public bank for nontraditional lending.
Other Local Elections and Candidates on Housing
While candidates in the Portland City Council and Mayoral races are prioritizing housing, candidates in other local races have not yet released housing plans. The vast majority of candidates running for Multnomah County and Metro Council positions have not released many details on how they will address the region’s most pressing issues. But with Metro planning to release housing bonds and homeless measure funding to cities and counties throughout the region, how these candidates propose to address housing needs may become more critical than ever.
Multnomah County Commissioner District 3
Jessica Vega Pederson, who is running for Multnomah County Commissioner in District 3, has released a housing statement (not a plan). Pederson plans to work with community organizations to build coalitions with local government agencies, including Multnomah County, to address homelessness and affordable housing. She also believes the county should operate as a “one-stop-shop” for connecting residents with housing and social services.
Metro Councilor District 3
Gerritt Rosenthal has released a statement arguing that Metro should do a better job of evaluating data and listening to residents and developers when determining whether to expand the urban growth boundary. He also supports Metro’s housing bond.
Metro Councilor District 5
Two candidates for Metro Councilor in District 5 answered PTU’s survey about rent control and tenant protections, though they have not put out comprehensive housing plans. Candidate Cameron Whitten is in favor of lowing the statewide rent cap but doesn’t believe local jurisdictions should be able to set individual rent control policies, arguing instead for a stronger relocation ordinance in the city of Portland. Candidate Chris Smith disagrees with Whitten, arguing that housing stability is a crucial part of planning for climate-related investments. Smith believes cities and other local jurisdictions should be able to establish regulations that help keep people in their homes.
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Schedule for voting in the primary:
April 22-24 – Voters’ Pamphlets delivered
April 28 – Voter registration deadline
April 29 – First day ballots are mailed to voters
May 19, 2020 – Election day