OPINION: State of the County 2021
This week, I delivered the 2021 State of the County. I wanted to provide a quick overview.
We continue to recover from the pandemic and economic recession, wildfires and toxic smoke, while addressing racial injustices and systemic racism in all county endeavors.
Washington County and Clean Water Services employees have worked tirelessly to help keep our community safe — and through it all, we can find resilience and hope.
Focusing on equity
We activated our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) when Oregon's first COVID-19 case was recorded in Washington County. This provided opportunity to create best practices, including embedding an equity officer within our EOC. We centered equity as we deployed limited resources while reflecting the board's unanimous vote on the county's first Equity Resolution in February 2020.
Our staff worked hard so our community's most vulnerable, including communities of color, had access to critical public health information and resources. That said, while the Latino/Latinx community make up more than 15% of our population, they represent 41% of known cases. Too many are still falling through the cracks. Our programs and policies must continue to center equity and lead with race.
In the spring, a racial reckoning followed the death of George Floyd, underscoring the injustice inflicted on countless other Black Americans. Out of this tragedy grew Reimagine Oregon. This coalition of Black business, nonprofit and community leaders is asking elected officials: when will you make good on years of promised policies and investments?
I'm proud that Washington County has been engaging with this group since its inception. We will continue this work at the direction of the board and with the help of our chief equity officer and our dedicated staff.
Solutions to houselessness
We've all witnessed an increase in houseless individuals and camping throughout the region. Fortunately there is hope on the horizon.
The 2018 voter-approved affordable housing bond is delivering $116 million to strengthen the county's Housing Services Department. These investments, along with those allocated to Beaverton and Hillsboro, will create 1,316 affordable housing units throughout the county over the next five to seven years. Work is underway, with two affordable housing complexes opening by the end of this year.
The second glimmer of hope was delivered last May, as voters approved a once-in-a-generation commitment to fund supportive housing services. These dollars will provide rental assistance, job training, mental health and substance use disorder treatment and other programs that help the chronically homeless stay housed. The funds will be available beginning this July and we have been hard at work to ensure expanded services are rolled out immediately.
Creating a diverse workforce
Another critical element in affordable housing is ensuring our community members have good paying jobs that provide opportunities for minorities and people of color and help build generational wealth. President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan would be the largest jobs and infrastructure investments since World War II. The Biden administration stated very clearly that they will be supporting all levels of government in delivering these projects with high-road standards on training, technical assistance and procurement best practices.
With this investment on the horizon, and with the knowledge that 90% of minority construction contractors come out of the crafts and trades, I believe that Metro's Construction Career Pathways Program, or C2P2, will help us deliver on the goal to diversify the industry.
C2P2 is a regional coalition of public agencies, private industry, unions and community-based organizations committed to creating and sustaining a diverse construction workforce. I'm advocating that Washington County sign on to the C2P2 partnership and join Clackamas County, Beaverton, the Beaverton School District and 13 other public agencies in this effort to increase long-term career and generational wealth-building opportunities.
Your board is focused on ensuring we deliver safety net programs at a time when many in our community are suffering — while staying true to the promise to spend county dollars on countywide services. As we continue to deliver for you, know that your county board is committed to equitable, efficient and transparent processes, programs and services.
Kathryn Harrington is chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.
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