Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler came to Inner Southeast, and says he believes that "homelessness" and "affordable housing" rank highly among Inner Southeast Portland's most pressing issues – and he has plans to work on both. He shared his thoughts about these and other current affairs at the January 27 meeting of the Creston-Kenilworth Neighborhood Association (CKNA). Some 25 local residents turned out at the Community Music Center, at 3350 S.E. Francis Street, to hear the Mayor's comments.
The question-and-answer session was part of neighborhood association's ongoing 2020 "election speaker" series. Each monthly meeting features one or more candidates running for a political office in the area. Wheeler, the current Mayor, is up for re-election in May.
CKNA Chair Rachel Davies queried Wheeler throughout the evening, working from written questions neighborhood residents had submitted in advance via e-mail. Most of the questions were combinations of similar questions submitted by several different people. A few meeting attendees also asked verbal questions during the meeting.
Homelessness came up first – particularly asking what the city is doing to mitigate unauthorized camping in Inner Southeast Portland. The Mayor called homelessness a "catastrophe" locally and nationally, and said it's an issue that matters deeply to him. He commented that some neighborhoods are making efforts to reach out to homeless populations, and engage with the people living on the streets. "That really seems to de-escalate some of the tensions," he said. However, those tensions remain a big issue across Portland.
"Part of the reason that people are so angry – so frustrated by the camps that they're seeing – is because they're seeing a lot of trash and needles and biohazards," Wheeler said. The city uses what he called "a complaint-driven system" to assess and respond to homeless camps; and he urged residents to report their concerns via www.pdxreporter.org – although it is necessary to sign up and create an account to use it.
"If you've reported on a camp, the chances are really good that 100 other people have reported the same camp. And we prioritize the mitigation and the cleanup of camps based on environmental public health and public safety."
Wheeler also responded to questions about housing issues in Creston-Kenilworth, including the rising cost of living, and Portland's controversial Residential Infill Project (R.I.P.), which would allow for higher residential densities.
Several meeting attendees expressed frustration that developers come into their neighborhoods and tear down a single older home to build multiple new houses or large apartment complexes – and this new housing ends up being more expensive than the original older home. It's also often more than local residents feel they can afford, so they worry about being priced out of their neighborhoods.
Wheeler said he's concerned about that, too. "I don't want Portland to end up like San Francisco," Wheeler responded. "What San Francisco is today is a very expensive place for very wealthy people to live."
Wheeler remarked that the R.I.P. is designed to address affordability issues. He claims the program would offer residents more housing options citywide, according to a recent analysis. However, he pointed out that the program could be problematic in three Eastside neighborhoods – Brentwood-Darlington, Lents, and Montavilla – where R.I.P. is expected to displace a total of 44 households over 15 years. He said most of those are minority households, and the city has a "moral obligation" to address that displacement. He said the city is working on creating policies to mitigate that potential problem.
The future of Portland's neighborhood associations also came up at the meeting – a recurring contentious issue in Inner Southeast Portland since it was discovered that a City Counselor had been working behind the scenes to end their official relationship with the city. Wheeler expressed ongoing support for these groups. "Under my leadership, neighborhood associations will never be abolished," Wheeler promised. "They play a very important role in terms of engagement at the community level – and particularly given our form of government, which doesn't have geographical representation." Portland's City Councilors are elected citywide, rather than serving a specific section of town.
While Wheeler supports neighborhood associations, he thinks some are not as inclusive as they could be. He worries they may not adequately represent their area's renters, people of color, and those who have lower incomes.
Another written question addressed the quickly-growing State Highway that forms Creston-Kenilworth's border to the north: "How do you see the transformation of Powell Boulevard to become the next major city thoroughfare, with retail and residential potential?"
"It's not just a neighborhood – it has the opportunity to actually be a place where everybody in the city could come gather," Wheeler said of recent and upcoming development along Powell Boulevard. "It has all the makings of the next great success story, in my opinion, and you guys are helping lead that charge."
The Creston-Kenilworth Neighborhood Association has reached out to all Portland mayoral candidates with campaign websites, Davies said. They've received commitments from Sarah Iannarone and Teressa Raiford to attend a meeting prior to the May 19 election. If you're interested in attending, upcoming CKNA meeting dates, times, and locations can be found at the association's website – www.creston-kenilworth.org
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.