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Panel of speakers talked about wages, housing, ways to move forward as a region

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - From left, Josh Fuhrer, Andy Miller, Councilor Eddy Morales and Commissioner Lori Stegmann all spoke during an economic forum. An economic report put out by the Portland Business Alliance has highlighted the vast disparities in resources between East Multnomah County and the rest of the region, showing the struggle in attracting and retaining jobs east of Interstate 205.

This is the first year the annual report has taken a deep dive into East Multnomah County. The findings were shared during an economic forum Tuesday evening, April 9, at Mt. Hood Community College.

"This is an area of dynamic change that is dealing with a lot of challenges right now," said John Tapogna, president of EcoNorthwest, which gathered the data.

In East Multnomah County, between 2013 and 2017, 20% of households lived in poverty. Among renters, 61% spend more than 30% of their income on housing, which classifies their housing as a cost burden.

Manufacturing wages are well below the average in East Multnomah County, and most types of work provide lower wages.

Almost 70% of those who call East County home work outside of the region, while 67% of people that do work in East Multnomah County come from somewhere else. The report also highlighted the lack of housing being built.

"These numbers are not news to us," said Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann. "I am excited we now have evidence-based data to help us gather incentives and support for East County."

Stegmann joined a panel of local leaders to discuss where Gresham and the surrounding communities can go from here. Also on the panel were Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales; Andy Miller, executive director of Human Solutions; and Josh Fuhrer, with the Gresham Redevelopment Commission.

The panel reminded the audience of about 100 people that the lack of new housing isn't the only problem. Much of the existing stock that was built prior to the Great Recession of 2008 was of poor quality, creating a glut of bad living conditions.

At Human Solutions they refer to a group called the "hidden homeless."

"They are the people who are close to falling into a state of homelessness because of rent insecurity," Miller said.

Those people on the precipice of homelessness need more workforce housing at a price that won't make them one bill away from being on the streets.

Despite the numbers shown during the event, everyone on the panel agreed that there was positivity to be found within the community.

"I see so much creativity and talent in the kids growing up in Rockwood, it breaks my heart they don't have those opportunities," Fuhrer said. "All this comes down to engagement and meeting people in the community, not forcing them to come to city hall."


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