Candidate profile: Kari Johnsen brings housing knowledge
Though Kari Johnsen has lived in West Linn for 23 years and has followed the politics of the city, the negativity and dysfunction she saw kept her from getting directly involved. This year, however, she's jumping into the fray as one of 10 candidates for two open seats on the West Linn City Council.
Through her work as executive director of the North Willamette Valley branch of Habitat for Humanity, Johnsen saw the positivity that could come from a productive municipal government. She's running for City Council because that's what she wants to bring to West Linn.
"Canby is a pretty good size city. And the cohesiveness that they have between their staff and their council members and their mayor is what I want to see for our city," Johnsen said.
She also mentioned working with the city of Silverton and wanting to see the kind of cohesion she sees there implemented in West Linn.
Having grown up in foster care and spent part of her childhood homeless, Johnsen's work for most of her adult life has centered around helping others.
In 2005, she co-founded the nonprofit Financial Beginnings, which teaches financial literacy to teens. She also helped teach money management at Rosemont Ridge Middle School and West Linn High School.
In 2012, Johnsen became a regional director for Operation Homefront, a nonprofit that provides struggling military families financial and housing assistance and other services.
Prior to joining Habitat for Humanity, Johnsen worked with Farmworker Housing Development, a Willamette Valley organization building affordable housing for low-income farm workers.
For Johnsen, one of the most important things for the city to improve is communication.
Conversations between the city and community regarding important issues like affordable housing, business development, the waterfront project and I-205 tolling need to start sooner rather than later, she said.
Specifically, the conversation about tolling should have begun years ago, Johnsen added.
"If a project gets that far down the line, there's no stopping it," she said.
In Johnsen's view, communication should also play a big part in how West Linn rethinks its police department.
The city needs to ask the community what it needs from the police department, Johnsen said. WLPD could also rethink how it educates its officers, she suggested.
She added that the city needs to look at what kind of calls WLPD takes most often and make sure there are officers on staff who are specifically trained for those types of incidents.
As the city thinks about diversity, equity and inclusion, it needs to recognize the importance of affordable housing, Johnsen said. If West Linn wants to be more diverse and inclusive, a more diverse group of people have to be able to afford to live here, she explained.
A better understanding of affordable housing and what it means for West Linn is another of Johnsen's priorities.
She explained that many people believe affordable housing and low-income housing are the same thing. In West Linn, however this is not the case, she said. In West Linn, affordable housing would be aimed at someone making around $60,000 a year, according to Johnsen.
Other priorities for Johnsen include increased support for local businesses and strategic planning for the waterfront development.
In her view, Johnsen sees a mix of uses for the waterfront: businesses, open spaces with bike paths, affordable housing and a multicultural center.
Johnsen said she wants people to know she doesn't have ties to anyone on the council so she's not tethered to anyone's interests or agendas. She's interested in serving everyone in the community, not just one particular person or group, she said.
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