Thank you so much for having me here today. This has been an inspirational program and I’m honored to be a part of it.
Some of you may remember that it was 8 years ago that I was elected to my first public office – Multnomah County Chair. One of my first acts was to come right here to the Convention Center and participate in a Habitat for Humanity demonstration project. It took place right here in this room.
I consider myself a reasonably useful person, but frankly I didn’t know much about building houses. In fact, I knew nothing. So I was a bit intimidated. I asked a Habitat for Humanity leader how I could help – he handed me a hammer and asked if I could hit a nail with it…. I said yes… he said “then you can build a house.”
For those of us who might question whether we have what it takes to get out into the field a build a home, it’s no different, and its quite a remarkable experience. One of the reasons Habitat for Humanity has been so successful is that there is at least some part of the process any of us can do.
And the need for Habitat for Humanity and your active participation could not be more urgent. Right now, there are approximately 280,000 Oregonians who are facing housing insecurity. 280,000! The 32 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the state do a great job of connecting dozens of families with new homes that they helped build, zero interest mortgages, and their own set of keys.
Housing families right here in Portland should be a top priority. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. You see, before I ever ran for any public office, I served for many years as a volunteer overnight shelter host at a local homeless family shelter. It was shocking to me that right here in our own community there were, and are, as many as 800 homeless families at any given time according to PHFS.
The reasons are many – low wages relative to rising housing costs, unaffordable healthcare that cuts into housing funds, unaffordable childcare, etc. Whatever the reason, we all have a role to play to address the issue.
And your presence here today demonstrates your commitment, and I thank you.
In my role as State Treasurer and as an elected official, I’m often asked about my views on education and economic development and other issues. And I’m happy to offer my opinion, and I do. But many times, if the occasion calls for it, I am sure to include this opinion as well:
None of our goals in any area of public policy can be met, and none of our aims can be fully accomplished, unless those we are elected to serve have access to a safe, affordable place to live. No family can truly thrive unless they have a place to call home.
A safe, affordable place to live is a home base for any family. It’s a place from which parents go to work and kids go to school. It anchors that family to a community. It’s where parents and kids do the most important thing any family can do: spend time together. The security and stability of a home is an essential element of “the pursuit of happiness.”
And in these changing times – here in Portland and in the Metro area as a whole – the pursuit of that home base is threatened… the “pursuit of happiness” is likewise threatened.
We all love Portland – those of us who have called this city home for decades, and those who just arrived. The world is falling in love with Portland, too. That is a good thing, because Portland has a lot to love. But the concern that I hear more and more is this:
As Portland grows in population and economic strength will the things we love about Portland grow too? Or will we instead outgrow the things we love about Portland?
Will housing, for example, continue to be affordable and accessible?
Consider this: Susan Anderson, the respected head of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability recently told the Metro Council that 123,000 housing units will be built in Portland over the next 20 years. But she went on to express alarm about the cost of housing in the future. She worried that people will keep moving to Portland and that a lot of families who are here now are not going to be able to continue living here as demand outstrips supply and household wages. I share her concerns.
We already see that working men and women are being forced farther and farther away from employment opportunities, and children are likewise being moved from school to school in pursuit of affordable housing arrangements. Clearly, this is not in the best long-term interest of our families or our community.
This is the issue we should ponder. All great cities change. That is to be expected. But the thing that makes a city great – its character, its essence – should endure.
Some call Portland the Rose City. Some call it Stump Town. Blazers fans call Portland Rip City, while Timbers fans call it Soccer City USA. Some people just call Portland Weird. And guess what? We are all that and more. We are not some monolithic, homogenous city, and frankly we don’t want to be. I have hope that Portland’s character will endure. That Portland will continue to be a place for all people, not just those with financial means.
New challenges require new ideas.
One such idea making its way through the Capitol in Salem right now is legislation that would allow our city to set its own affordable housing policy. It’s known as “inclusionary zoning” and it’s been outlawed since the 1990s. The concept is pretty straight forward: it would mean that local governments could set aside up to 30% of the units in a development to be sold below market prices.
Communities would not be required to do so. Many won’t. But I think we can all agree that this should be a local issue. When it comes to pursuing a vision for our city, we should have the final say. And, if we want to pursue regional agreements around affordable housing with neighboring cities, we should be allowed to do so.
I’ll close with this thought. Most Americans have modest goals. We want to have a home, feed our families every day, send our kids to college, care for our aging parents, and build some security for our own retirement years. I see it as my job to do what I can to help ensure every family has the opportunity to achieve those goals. I know you do too, because you are here today doing your part. Thank you for being here and thank you for your support of Habitat for Humanity.