Why housing matters in this election

There’s a lot of personality in the upcoming elections. This is Portland, after all.

And in these times, the gravity of this election is further weighted by the stagnant economy, the city’s pressing financial straits, and the many directions this city can go, possibly far afield from where it has been.

Housing, however, seldom breaks the surface on Portlanders’ voting minds, when it should.

Of course, housing has always been political. Not too long ago, housing policy meant dead-end tenement projects that concentrated poverty while tax deductions encouraged middle-income homebuyers to sprawl into the suburbs. Today, in Portland certainly, the trend is to return to the established urban cores, where tax breaks incentives revitalization by major developers.

Revitalization has given room to gentrification and displacement as the fallback phrases in this local election cycle, as low-income families are now getting pushed further and further to the edge of town, literally and figuratively.

Meanwhile, families are losing their homes to a foreclosure pandemic manufactured by the financial industry. Some of them are joining the ranks of couch surfers and hotel residents, of car campers and tent dwellers — becoming homeless. The politics of housing is about the proliferation of urban renewal districts and the appropriation of those tax revenues to new development, including low-income housing. It’s about keeping our options open for creating future revenue sources as existing sources run dry. It’s about the definitions we apply to those in need — often creating square pegs for round holes. It’s about a small group of homeless campers who survived the winter in peace and safety at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Burnside, under the watchful eye of city code enforcers.

On housing pivots so many issues our current slate of candidates are eagerly talking about: transportation, job development, public safety and schools. Each and every one of us has a vested interest in how our government moves forward on housing concerns, no one more so than those who are living on or close to the streets. But the same goes for any family struggling to keep its home, or any individual who is relying on the small, single-room apartment that is keeping him clean and sober, and maybe finally, employed and engaged in our community. Our housing policies are reflected on our sidewalks, in our school halls and our emergency rooms. Unstable housing has been directly linked to lower grades in school and poorer health. And the Mobius loop of stable housing and gainful employment leaves one almost inseparable from the other.

The city needs representatives in office who not only understand housing’s role in Portland’s social, economic and environmental fabric, but who will not lose sight of that relationship to special interests pulling them in one direction or another.

This is not a call for a vote, but rather a call for leadership that shares the value of safe, stable and affordable housing as much as we all do. This is Portland, after all.

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