We’ll be blunt: The presidential election was, on multiple levels, brutal. Against all seeming reason, America managed to elect a candidate who stands against everything MPower and our partners and allies believe in. He denies the threat posed by climate change and has shown little or no regard for the most vulnerable members of our society, the ones most in need of affordable housing.
Against this dark backdrop, it can be a challenge to find points of lightness and hope, but we want to remind you of a significant one: The most impactful decisions on renewable resources and housing policy are made not at the national level, but by states and municipalities. And, as California is demonstrating, those actions can have positive, global consequences.
Closer to home, the easy passage of Measure 26-179, the affordable housing bond, is a strong reminder that Oregonians care about responsible housing practices, the judicious role of the public sector, and social justice.
Energized by this victory, we sat down to talk with Jes Larson, director of the Welcome Home Coalition, the authors of Measure 26-179. You can hear the full conversation here:
Alternately, here’s an excerpt from that interview:
MPower: The bond passed, congratulations! Now what?
Larson: “Well, the work at Welcome Home continues; the victory in Portland is wonderful, but we’ve always focused on regional solutions. So we’re working with leaders in Washington County on the possibility of taking a bond or a levy to their voters. And of course, we start by actually talking with those voters! We have a change in leadership in Clackamas County, and they’re very interested to look at how they can tackle these same issues and build momentum.
“We have a unique local government here in Metro (the only elected body in the country that oversees a jurisdiction larger than a country but smaller than a state), so we have Washington and Clackamas counties in mind—and the rest of Multnomah County—from the very get-go. Our goal is to build ground power that would ultimately support a Metro-wide mechanism. The housing crisis is statewide and national, but this is our focus.
“And not to get too wonky, but we’re looking at the possibility of introducing a construction excise tax. We have SDCs—system development charges—for all these parts of the infrastructure, like sidewalks, sewers, etc. But affordable housing has never had the opportunity to have an SDC (to fund it). The excise tax is functionally very similar. We think it’s a very viable mechanism. So we’ll be advancing all these tools, not just bonds and levies!
“And finally, we want to work with the elected leadership to make the best use of this great new bond! We want to ensure that these projects meet the very high bar of community approval and expectations.
MPower: Where do you see affordable housing and the environment intersecting?
Larson: “It’s hard for me to parse them; the environmental perspective IS the human perspective! We’re talking about the health and wellbeing of people on our planet; what these measurements mean for the impact on our planet is the same.
“We’re having a return to urbanization, and this is great in terms of its impact on the environment, but there are low-wage workers having to get to the center of the city to serve the high-wage workers who live there. The impact of transportation on their lives in the outskirts of the city is VERY different from how we experience it in the inner city: Public transit users experience much longer wait times, much longer walk distances, no service after-hours or on weekends. So lower-wage workers are pushed out of the core, and now require access to vehicles to get to those jobs. And those vehicles are not typically hot off the line, environmentally friendly vehicles!
“Comprehensive environmental strategies need to include comprehensive human strategies. We need to have affordability, inside livability, inside of walkability, inside of our urban core. And we need to extend transportation options to the far ends of our city, so we need to make the whole city work for everybody.
MPower: What’s your take on the current green building requirements?
Larson: “I disagree with this point of questioning that we often get as affordable housing advocates. We’re often asked: “If affordable housing is so important, why are you making it so expensive? Why not just build more?”
“Green building standards increase the bottom line at the start, but we should never be comparing affordable housing construction with market-rate construction. Affordable housing is an investment owned by the public for 60 – 100 years; it’s financed and constructed to last that long. It’s totally incompatible with the market-rate strategy; housing is built to be sold in the next 1 to 5 years and it’s up to the owner to make any improvements.
“So yes, it does cost more, but it’s built to last and to reduce the operating costs over decades for the owner, and utility expenses for the renter. We want to maintain the affordability for both these groups!