Street Roots editorial: We’re losing ground, time to charge

Street Roots editorial from the August 7, edition

In Portland the housing options for the poorest in our town has declined by 23 percent, while the same options for the more affluent gained nearly 12 percent. Statewide we have the dubious distinction of being, per capita, No. 1 in the nation for homelessness, No. 2 in unemployment, and No. 3 in hunger. As the largest metropolitan area in Oregon, Portland has a responsibility to push beyond and say this is not acceptable.The city and the county have both more or less accepted the stimulus dollars for homelessness and housing as pet projects, like weatherization and building improvements for affordable housing, without thinking creatively. Street Roots gets the sense that the Portland region took what it could get from the Federal Government, and the idea that there was capacity to build an alternative strategy for stimulus dollars was never on the table.

The decision to merge the Bureau of Housing and Community Development and portions of the Portland Development Commission into the Portland Housing Bureau was done in a rush. The merger has taken place more or less without a housing director after the former director resigned and months lapsed without any real leadership.

There’s been very little community input into the merger and there’s a growing sense among homeless and housing advocates that, more times than not these days, we find ourselves on the outside looking in when it comes to crafting real strategies to combating homelessness and poverty.

In a rush toward superficial improvements, long-term strategic thinking is being lost – like creating a bond or levy for affordable housing.

Last week, Street Roots received a two-page report highlighting the mid-year accomplishments of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. On paper, the report looks great. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an environment where reports dictate reality. What the report didn’t note is the fact that homelessness is increasing and the inventory of affordable housing units is decreasing rapidly citywide. And the economy under which this plan and goals were created has disappeared.

We don’t speak these truths without thinking about what we saying. We realize both the city and county have gone to the wall to create smart and effective budgets for 2009-10 that holds the levies on these issues. We’re just know that the crest in the river is a long way off, and in order to maintain a sustainable revenue stream that thrusts us ahead of the curve it’s going to take more than the status quo.

As a city, we’ve become very skilled at our own PR. But just below the surface are some very disturbing realities – and no, it isn’t that we don’t have a new minor league baseball stadium, or consensus on the new look for the Made in Oregon sign. And it certainly isn’t that there are young people hanging out downtown. It’s that we seem to be in denial that we can simply ride out the tough times and plan for the good. Efforts to stem this tide years ago, such as the set aside in urban renewal districts, are being squandered. Piecemeal, these efforts will always be vulnerable. It’s time for the city to make a serious commitment to affordable housing. Make the charge, Portland, and invest in this city’s future for all.

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