Everyone is getting excited about Obama-mania
hitting Europe, but Portlanders need look no further for November election excitement than the run-off between City Council candidates Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis, who are vying for Mayor-Elect Sam Adams' seat on City Council.
It's the only City Council race still campaigning the streets of Portland, and WW
caught up with both candidates to ask them some questions about their views on affordable housing and homelessness.
Both candidates maintain that creating and maintaining affordable housing is one of the most important priorities of the City, and of their campaign.
“Housing is one of the core responsibilities of the City,” Fritz says. “Individuals and families need safe, affordable homes in order to be able to live in Portland.”
“[Housing] directly impacts everything else,” Lewis says. What's affected, Lewis says, includes everything from Portland's economy, to schools, to damage to the environment created by longer commutes.
Lewis says affordable housing is the most important issue the City is currently facing, and he would like to have the Bureau of Housing and Community Development as one of his bureau assignments if he's elected. (Nick Fish currently has that bureau.)
Lewis said in his endorsement interview
that he challenged former Commissioner Erik Sten to an arm wrestling match for the Bureau.
“It looks like I'll have to arm wrestle Nick Fish for the bureau now,” Lewis says.
Okay, got it, affordable housing is really important and everything—but what do Fritz and Lewis really think when it comes down to policy? Here are some questions and answers to help you decide.
(Note: Fritz's answers are first, because her name's first in the alphabet. The alphabet doesn't play favorites.)
WW: Do you think the City adequately dealt with the three-week-long protest outside of City Hall? What should have been done differently?
Amanda Fritz: I commend all parties—the protesters, Council, and police—for conducting and ending the protest peacefully. The issues facing people experiencing homelessness were highlighted, and strategies for long-term solutions moved a step forward—adding more advocates experiencing homelessness to the committee monitoring the Ten Year Plan is good for all. One improvement would have been for Council members to have recognized that not all citizens feel comfortable talking with staff and elected officials inside City Hall. Meeting with protesters at a location in the community, such as an independent nonprofit social support site, might have resulted in fostering greater trust more quickly.
CL: I hope that both the City and the protesters used this opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about homelessness, services provided to the homeless and affordable housing. I have some concerns with the legality of stopping the protest. It was a little disturbing for me to see the protest stopped. [Protesting is] part of what's involved in living in a democracy. The idea of limiting that right is disturbing to me. Especially for something as important as housing. That's not to say that the protesters could not have done better. There were politics played. [City Council] increased the amount of shelters beds for the next couple months after that, and it kind of undertook the protesters. That's a short-term solution. If the protesters had been better organized, they could have really vocalized that. The whole thing could have and should have been handled differently, on both sides.
Many of the protesters are asking for a "green zone," somewhere in the city where they can camp peacefully until more affordable housing is available. Do you support the idea of creating a green zone, and if so, what do you think that might look like?
AF: I want the City to revisit and amend the anti-camping ordinance, which was adopted many years ago. I would like to see stakeholders from all interest groups—people experiencing homelessness, city staff including police, social service providers, civil rights organizations, parks and neighborhood advocates, and more—form a Task Force to consider amendments. The concept of defining *a* green zone, i.e., one, is problematic for several reasons, which Portlanders who remember the controversy siting Dignity Village will likely anticipate. We should do a comprehensive review of the anti-camping ordinance, including recognition of the need and unavailability of shelter, and consider several options to provide legal places for people without homes to sleep—including but not limited to green zones.
CL: I strongly support the idea of creating a "green zone" as a temporary solution for our affordable housing shortfall. This solution must allow residents to have access to basic services such as public transportation, showers, bathrooms, food and first aid. Providing a safe, orderly space for the homeless to camp while they wait for affordable housing is something I believe the City should invest in. While doing this, we need to ensure that we are investing in long term solutions.
Many homeless people, advocates and other groups say the City's sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances infringe upon homeless people's civil rights. Do you support the repeal, suspension, or modification of either of those ordinances?
AF: I opposed the "Sit-Lie" ordinance when it was adopted in 2007, and will likely support its repeal/sunset. I did not support it when adopted, and I am concerned about its uneven enforcement. No citations have been issued to anyone who is not homeless. Violations of A-board signs and obstructive newspaper boxes do not seem to be ticketed. I support assessment of whether the ordinance is legal, evenly enforced, and effective. The ordinance is due to be reconsidered in June 2009. I want to be on the Council when the community offers testimony on whether to continue its regulations. I will need to hear new, convincing evidence that it is necessary, Constitutional, and fair, otherwise I will not vote to extend it.
I support amending the Anti-Camping ordinance. Sleeping is a basic human function, and the two regulations together make it illegal to be human, homeless, and sleepy in Portland. I would like to see the committee working on the Ten Year Plan, or another stakeholder group formed to review other issues affecting homeless people, propose amendments to the Anti-Camping ordinance. An amendment could specify conditions for when and where people experiencing homelessness are allowed to sleep outside. For the safety of both sleepers and neighbors, I don't support complete repeal of the Anti-Camping ordinance.
CL: Day shelters like the Julia West House were part of the agreement the City reached with the community to provide more services to homeless populations. While some progress has been made on providing more services to Portland's homeless population, I don't feel that the city has completely fulfilled it's obligations under our agreement. As such, I do not support enforcement of the sit-lie ordinance until more services are made available to the very vulnerable part of our community.
Many homeless people say that when they are swept from makeshift camps by the police, they are woken up in the middle of the night, given little time to collect their possessions, and what possessions they cannot collect are confiscated and thrown away by the police. Is there a better way for the police to enforce the anti-camping ordinance?
AF: All Portlanders, including police officers and people experiencing homelessness, should be treated with respect and dignity at all times. Is there a better way for the police to enforce a policy adopted by the Council that doesn't allow people to sleep? Maybe. If elected, I will constantly and continuously look for ways to improve City policies and practices, by talking with the people most closely involved on all sides, listening, and acting on their advice. Enforcing the anti-camping ordinance should come after the evaluation of whether it needs to be amended, and identification of real alternatives for safe places to sleep.
CL: Like anyone else in our society, the homeless have the right to expect that their possessions are being treated with respect and dignity. I would like to give the police the benefit of the doubt and assume that most police officers are sympathetic to the homeless and treat them with respect. That being said, I feel that the best way to ensure that the rights and property of the homeless are respected would be to create a safe, orderly community where they can camp freely, without being asked to move in the middle of the night.
The City recently voted to create what is essentially a year-round shelter for men at the Salvation Army. Current policy at the Housing Bureau is that shelters are not a successful conduit into permanent housing. Do you agree, or would you like to see an increase in the amount of shelters available to homeless people in Portland?
AF: I was present in Council chambers during the vote on funding the shelter. Your question oversimplifies the long and constructive discussion, led mostly by Commissioners Leonard and Fish, which they pledged to continue over the next several months. As a psychiatric nurse who has worked with mentally ill, homeless people in Portland for over 22 years, I know that it's not a question of either-or. It is true that shelters do not automatically lead to permanent supportive housing. It is also true that emergency shelters will always be needed to keep newly-homeless people safe, warm and dry. Staff at the Bureau of Housing and Community Development recognized both those facts, at the hearing. I will work with Commissioner Fish and the other Commissioners, Mayor Adams, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler, and with housing, shelter, and services providers at the City, County, and in the community, to find more efficient, cost-effective, compassionate strategies to find and fund help for people experiencing homelessness. And to find the right balance in funding for shelters.
CL: I support the goals of the Bureau of Housing and Community Development and understand that the "Housing First Model" does work and is the best way to break the cycle of chronic homelessness. However, we currently have a shortage of affordable housing available to the homeless. Leaving folks on the street should never be an option. As a child, I spent many nights sleeping in the family car because when we moved, we often had trouble finding an affordable place to live. I support using shelters as a temporary, safe, clean place for the homeless to spend the night and would place an emphasis on investing in single residency occupancies. Shelters are a necessary component to helping a vulnerable part of our community.
There is a shortage of affordable housing in Portland. The problem may not be fixed easily with the economic recession the country is facing. What creative solutions would you bring to the table if elected to the Council to create more affordable housing?
AF: The main problem with funding affordable housing in Portland is lack of money from the state and federal government. At the same time that the federal government required Portland to define the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, federal funding has moved away from permanent supportive housing and more for shelters. The 2007 State Legislature failed to enact a small document-recording fee with home sales that would have provided millions for affordable housing. With hoped-for changes in the direction of both the state and national governments after the November elections, I will work with the Council in advocating to correct these problems. I will use my experience as a nurse in the disjointed mental health care "system" in Oregon to push for cost-effective improvements and coordination that will save money for needs like affordable housing. People placed in housing need services like job training and mental health treatment to help them succeed and become independent. I will work with Multnomah County to ensure that agencies with the most expertise are provided with adequate resources to promote long-term resolution of the factors causing homelessness.
CL: Affordable housing has been at the forefront of my campaign since I announced my candidacy over a year ago. I have proposed two specific proposals that would increase the number of affordable housing units in Portland. 1) The use of the 30% set-aside from Tax Increment Financing funding needs to be revisited. I have been pushing for the Portland Development Commission to work concurrently with the Bureau of Housing and Community Development to ensure that the 30% set-aside and other funding mechanisms are being used to create affordable housing throughout Portland. The "cookie-cutter" approach has lead to an over-concentration of affordable housing in some neighborhoods while escalating housing prices in other parts of town have forced working families and individuals out. 2) I have proposed the Portland Housing Opportunity Program (P-HOP), a program under which the City would guarantee mortgage insurance for first time home-buyers, allowing working families and individuals to buy into Portland.
Many low-income people with Section 8 vouchers are being turned away from landlords. What would you do to ensure that people with Section 8 vouchers can find a place to live?
AF: Portland's housing codes should not allow discrimination based on source of income. I will keep the promise the Council made in 1999, to consider amending the Code to make sure people with Section 8 vouchers receive fair, equal consideration when applying for rental homes.
CL: State law forbids discrimination based on source of funds, except for vouchers. The City has the option to amend it's code to end this exception. On the City Council I will forcefully advocate that we pass a law making it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants who use Section 8 vouchers.
Still haven't read enough? To see more information about Amanda Fritz's plan to provide more affordable housing, go here. Charles Lewis' website is here.
[Photos: Amanda Fritz at Candidates Gone Wild, Charles Lewis working the grassroots]