Steve Novick, the currenlty uncontested candidate for Randy Leonard’s spot on Portland City Council, has plenty of novel ideas for a City Council facing more change than it’s seen in decades. With Mayor Sam Adams and Leonard leaving, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz facing a tough contest, as many as three of the five Council seats could change next year.
New Jersey-born and Oregon-raised, Novick graduated from University of Oregon at 18 and Harvard Law School at age 21 before launching prolific careers as an environmental lawyer, nonprofit director and community advocate. In 1998, Novick was chief of staff for the Oregon Senate Democrats, and has since eyed positions at city, county, state and federal levels, most notably running a close race for the Senate in 2008. The “fighter with the hard left hook,” a pun addressing his left hand hook prosthesis, currently works for the Oregon Health Authority.
Novick received the endorsement of Gov. John Kitzhaber last week, and has raised more than $100,000 in the mere 52 days since his campaign announcement (in contrast, state Rep. Mary Nolan, Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s opponent, has reported less than half of that amount). Street Roots grabbed coffee and kebabs with Novick this week, and picked his brain on everything from his ideas for health care and public safety to his distaste for gentrification.
Stacy Brownhill: The Portland Housing Bureau Director, Margaret Van Vliet, is moving to lead the state housing agency. In her interview with Street Roots, she talked about the need for housing to be “front and center,” so that when we’re talking about jobs or health or community issues, we’re talking about housing problems that underlie those other things. What are your ideas for creating affordable housing in Portland?
Steve Novick: Creating affordable housing is hard. Rent control and inclusionary zoning are ways to create affordable housing but are against state law, as I understand it. We have the low-income housing tax credit program, which ensures some affordable housing.
Urban renewal is a problematic tool for affordable housing because only 15 percent of the city can be an urban renewal district at any given time, and the districts tend to last awhile. So most people will never live in an urban renewal district.
One question the council has to consider going forward is: Have we done urban renewal in a way that’s made previously affordable housing unaffordable through gentrification? We have to be really careful that we’re not just creating more neighborhoods for rich white people to live in.
I was not aware until recently that we spend $106 million per year of property taxes on urban renewal — that’s like 24 cents of every tax dollar.
To some extent, the city of Portland over the past 20 years has been blinded by cuteness. We keep thinking if we build more cute neighborhoods then that’s an economic development strategy. But we’ve got cute neighborhoods coming out of our ears and we’re still lagging behind comparable cities, like Seattle and Denver, in terms of income and jobs. So I would be very hesitant about where we put more urban renewal money.
Also, offering better jobs is a way of making housing more affordable. If we had a stronger economy, more people would be able to afford housing because they would be making more money. Continue reading