Mayors discuss housing, climate change at North Clackamas forum
Housing affordability was the biggest topic of conversation at this year's State of Cities Forum, with Gladstone, Happy Valley and Milwaukie all seeking multifamily housing projects amid the recent passage of statewide rent-control legislation.
Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay was absent from the North Clackamas Chamber forum for the second year in a row.
At the March 6 event, Gladstone Mayor Tammy Stempel said her city can't afford to wait for the benefits of a recently passed Metro affordable-housing bond to come online after more than five years of planning and construction.
Stempel cited examples of vulnerable people already having to choose between food, medicine and shelter. She advocated for a 90-year-old who was having to live in a car after being made homeless over the holiday season due to rent increases.
"We need to be creative and find more solutions," she said.
Tom Ellis, speaking at the forum for the first time as Happy Valley mayor, said he recently spoke to many landlords who now are planning to sell their investments because it will be too much trouble for them to follow new statewide regulations, including a ban on no-cause evictions. Ellis said a better solution to Oregon's shortage of affordable housing would be to encourage developers to build more housing by reducing system development charges.
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba said reducing development charges would not make much difference in housing affordability, because in his experience, such savings generally would not be passed on to renters, and landlords "will charge what the market will bear."
Gamba agreed with Stempel that the new state legislation should have gone further than capping rent increases at 7-10 percent annually in protecting people from homelessness.
"People on the tenant side will tell you that it's not nearly strong enough," Gamba said.
Chamber Board Chair Shelly Parini acted as moderator during the forum. She noted that both Milwaukie and Gladstone are older cities traditionally housing working-class families, but those same families now are struggling to survive and stay in their homes.
"Thank you for your compassionate hearts and really trying to do your best for those involved," Parini said.
The Milwaukie and Gladstone mayors found themselves in agreement on several other topics, including seeing a need for action on climate change.
Gamba noted that building a lot of affordable housing is "superficially in competition" with energy-efficient building, since efficient buildings require a higher initial investment.
However, "all affordable housing is going to be built with governmental funding one way or another," Gamba said, so he called on governmental agencies to think about the long-term impact of building with the environment and efficiency savings in mind.
Gladstone, for its part, is struggling to address its resiliency to climate change as it grapples with a $200 million shortfall in deferred maintenance on its older sewer and water systems.
"Climate change is going to affect every decision we make, not just affordable housing," Stempel said.
Gamba called on business leaders to embrace innovation in coming up with strategies to combat climate change proactively rather than bemoaning proposed environmental initiatives that potentially could hurt their bottom line.
"It's not a zero-sum game," he said, adding business owners carry most of the power in this country to look at challenges as financial opportunities.
Parini responded, "I'd like to speak on behalf of Chamber members, many of whom are small businesses: They don't feel that they are holding all of the power."
Gamba said the bulk of climate-change solutions ultimately will have to come from the federal level.
Happy Valley's unique challenges
Mayors Gamba and Stempel saw a shared need for their cities to address parking regulations and find more transportation funding.
Ellis acknowledged Happy Valley's regional uniqueness several times during the forum, including creating a comprehensive plan for over 2,000 acres of land in Pleasant Valley.
"We have something most cities don't, and that's buildable land," he said. "It's not every day that you get to build a city from scratch … and I feel a big responsibility to do it the right way."
Ellis said that Happy Valley developments have ample parking, so the issue rarely comes before City Council there. While the city was officially neutral on a recent increase in the vehicle-registration fee, Ellis personally thought the $30 annual increase wasn't too much to ask, given that Happy Valley and other cities will receive 40 percent of the proceeds based on their population sizes.
He said the city is in the process of creating an urban-renewal district that would fund needed transportation improvements on Happy Valley's eastside.
Stempel said Gladstone is also "crazy busy" with hiring new police and fire chiefs and working toward substantial completion of a new civic center by May 2020.
Gamba said by March 2020, Milwaukie will have completed its Ledding Library project, along with a project to ready the south downtown area for the farmers market.