County commission candidates take on housing questions
Questions on affordable housing and homelessness were among those that dominated a candidate forum for three seats on the Washington County Commission, sponsored by Washington County Thrives, an organization that focuses on advocating for affordable housing, workforce training and early learning.
Eight candidates gathered for the two-hour forum on Friday, April 20, held at the Tigard Public Library.
The open positions and their candidates include: An at-large seat to become commission chair: Ryan Deckert, Kathryn Harrington, Bob Terry and Shabba Woodley. District 2: Greg Malinowski and Pam Treece. And District 4: Kimberly Culbertson and Jerry Willey.
Moderating Friday's event was Dana Haynes, managing editor of The Times, and Yanely Rivas, lead organizer for Washington County, Unite Oregon.
Questions that were asked (not the same ones for each group of candidates) included such topics as how to avoid displacing residents if housing complexes are sold and if rents go up substantially; whether they support Southwest Corridor Light Rail plan (despite the fact it will likely lead to some residents and businesses being displaced); personal stances on where they would stand if a group home for the mentally ill were located in their neighborhoods; support of so-called sanctuary cities or counties; and how candidates would help people move out of subsidized housing and into an open market.
The majority of questions focused on affordable housing and homelessness in Eastern Washington County. Specifically mentioned numerous times was a likely regional $500 million affordable housing bond, which could be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot by Metro, the regional government.
Highlights of answers made by the candidates include:
Kimberly Culbertson: "Affordable housing keeps families stable and building community," she said. She also said she wants to see people be allowed to age in place and advocates for housing for the elderly. "We need to hold our cities to account — and make it a priority in Washington County — to have affordable housing for elders." Culbertson said putting people on the streets in order to flip a housing project was "inhumane." She also said there is a huge need to have affordable housing in Washington County.
Jerry Willey: A former mayor of Hillsboro, Willey said there are a number of families in the community who are on the cusp of homelessness and it's important to have an all-hands-on-deck approach to address the problem in the fastest growing county in the state. The county, he said, needs to deal with the differences between the "haves and the have nots." He said he was supportive of the Metro bond as well. "It will be important that we reach out to each one of those segments of our low-income folks to make sure they are taken care of."
Greg Malinowski: "We have to do something about the affordable housing crisis." Malinowski noted that many of the homeless have mental issues that needs to be dealt with, noting that the sheriff is currently the default mental health provider, something that shouldn't be happening. He also clarified that when discussing housing that being homeless is different from a workforce that has jobs but can't afford to live here. Running for reelection to his seat, Malinowski said he was pleased the county purchased housing for mentally ill residents in the county. "They're part of our community too. They're our family, our friends. They're us."
Pam Treece, who serves as executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, said she believes economic viability is more about everyone succeeding. She said she would be supportive of homeless shelters, even if one were built close to her home. "If a shelter were built in my neighborhood, I'm a knitter, I'd be knitting blankets and hats and taking them over. Yes, I would welcome them in my community." She said she was supportive of the notion of having sanctuary counties as well as sanctuary cities.
Ryan Deckert: He said 3,200 children in Washington County go to bed homeless or housing insecure each night. He advocates for passage of the likely regional bond that would secure money and then build what would likely have to be multi-family units quickly. Deckert said he does believe the ultimate solution is for the county to build its way out of a problem, constructing 23,000 housing units. "And that's how we'll create downward pressure on rents," he said. He also said the issues related to housing will continue to be a topic of discussion throughout the nation in the future.
Kathryn Harrington: "Everyone deserves the opportunity of stable housing." However, she said the market has abandoned those who make $30,000 a year or less. She said she's supportive of such a Metro bond, which she predicted would cost the average homeowner $50 more a year on their property tax bill. "Washington County, (which) is the economic engine of this state, should be looking out for those in the community who are struggling. It is paramount." She said the county has a big need for affordable housing and needs to spend time coming up with solutions to the problem.
Bob Terry: Told audience members that there needs to be a public/private partnership when constructing affordable housing. He pointed out, however, that homelessness in Washington County has gone down, not up. He said the county is working on a solution to the subsidized housing issue allowing it to move into an open market but said it has to include help from residents, "not just your pocketbook." "The cost of housing is a problem that affects everybody," he said. However, to the general questions and answers brought up during the meeting, Terry said it sounds like the sky is falling. "I assure you, your sky is not falling."
Shabba Woodley: Supports not only affordable living units but keeping them affordable. He said the county needs to look at rent control. "What's the point of having a bond now if we're going to need a bond later?" he asked. Woodley said he's supportive of the proposed Metro bond, noting that going into Portland people are sleeping just off the highway. "And that's coming our way and it's here now. So yes, we need to do something immediately to support this bond" he said. "If you don't pay for it now, it's going to be more expensive in the future."