Jo Ann Hardesty and Loretta Smith agree the City Council cannot build enough low-cost homes fast enough to end the affordable housing crisis that is forcing people to live on the streets.
But the two council candidates disagreed on what should also be done during their joint appearance last Thursday before the Portland Tribune editorial board.
Hardesty, an activist and consultant, said she supports more "self-regulated" homeless camps like Dignity Village in outer Northeast Portland and Right 2 Dream Too in the Rose Quarter. She also questioned why the Portland Housing Bureau did not buy the Holgate Manor in Southeast Portland before it was purchased by a California developer, who then paid most of the tenants to leave so that it could be renovated. "The city doesn't seem to know what's going on in the community," Hardesty said.
Smith, a Multnomah County commissioner, reaffirmed her longtime support for turning the former county-owned Wapato Jail in North Portland into a homeless shelter and service center, saying it could house and provide treatment services for over a thousand people. She also said the city should extend an existing tax credit program for affordable units in new apartments to existing multifamily buildings, saying it would encourage landlords to reduce rents for existing apartments now.
"It takes too long to get projects through the permitting system now," said Smith, who also supports redeveloping brownfields into affordable housing projects.
Prompted by a question, Smith repeated her charge that Hardesty had "embezzled" money from the Portland chapter of the NAACP when she was president in 2017, citing an Oregon Public Broadcasting report that Hardesty paid herself $10,000 for a consulting contract that was not approved by the executive committee, as required by its rules.
"I looked at what OPB put out," Smith said when asked how she could make such a serious charge without substantiating it.
"The AG is looking into that, so I don't have to back that up," she said, referring to the attorney general.
Hardesty declined to discuss the details of the allegations, but said she was disappointed with both OPB and Smith for their handling of the matter.
"I did not get a paycheck at the NAACP," Hardesty said of her volunteer position. She resigned from that post earlier this year to run for the council.
Whoever wins the Nov. 6 general election will be the first African-American woman elected to the council. She will also give the five-member council its first female majority.
Hardesty, a former state legislator, finished a strong first in the May 2018 primary election to succeed Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who chose not to run for another term. She did not win more than 50 percent of the vote, however, setting up the runoff election with Smith, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. Smith finished a distant second.
Hardesty and Smith both live east of 82nd Avenue and shared personal experiences about the livability problems in the area caused by years of government neglect. Hardesty said it takes her 90 minutes to get downtown on a TriMet bus, but is thankful she has to take only one. Smith pointed to a bruised knee she said was caused by stumbling off a substandard curb while campaigning door-to-door. Smith also cited the difficulty of finding fresh food in the discount groceries in her neighborhood.
"Increasing the sidewalks past 82nd would be great," Smith said.
Hardesty noted that similar problems exist in Southwest Portland, saying residents there should form an advocacy organization similar to the nonprofit East Portland Action Plan, which is overseen by a board she serves on.
Hardesty has focused on police accountability for much of her career, and she criticized law enforcement agencies several times during the interview. Among other things, she accused Portland police of criminalizing homelessness and charged TriMet police with discriminating against low-income and minority riders.
Smith praised Hardesty for her police accountability work, but questioned her effectiveness, noting that such problems have persisted despite her efforts.
"I have a record of effectiveness," Smith said, pointing to the ongoing youth jobs program she sponsored as a county commissioner.
Both candidates supported the Portland Clean Energy Fund on the November ballot. It would impose a 1 percent surcharge on large retailers to finance energy efficiency, green job training, and sustainable agriculture, especially in minority communities. Hardesty took credit for helping to write and place the measure on the ballot by a petition drive, and said she looked forward to working on its implementation.
"I will not be boxed in by silos," Hardesty said, referring to the traditional practice of council members focusing on the bureaus they are assigned to oversee.
Hardesty and Smith also disagreed on their priorities for overseeing Portland Fire & Rescue, which Mayor Ted Wheeler has said he will assign to whoever wins the election. Hardesty said she wants to reduce the number of times fire engines respond to non-fire 911 calls along with ambulances and, occasionally, police, calling it a waste of resources. Smith said she wants the fire bureau to play a leading role in preparing Portlanders for the major earthquake predicted to hit in coming years, because it will be among the most important first responders
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