Candidates for Council Position 2 / Margot Black

1. East Portland is home to 25% of the city’s population, yet has historically been allocated a smaller share of city resources than other areas of town. How will you support equity for East Portland in city investments in transportation, parks, housing and economic development?

This discrepancy--more city-level power coming from and focused on areas of relative privilege rather than on the areas, such as East Portland, are severely under-resourced -- is a focus of mine. The form of city government matters little if the priority of the city council remains dedicated to the priority of the political establishment. Place matters. When all city business is still concentrated in downtown Portland, other parts of the city are more easily forgotten. As city commissioner, I will hold regular, accessible, and family friendly office hours in East Portland and will work to open full satellite offices for city council in East Portland, if not a wholesale move of city hall to Gateway, the approximate geographic center of the city.  I will also advocate for opening of satellite offices for important city bureaus (e.g. PBOT and Parks and Recreation) and study of potential relocation of certain bureaus to E Portland.

A key part of this process will be to engage communities of color and low-income communities in participatory decision-making processes that avoid top-down presentation of predetermined choices. When considering how to make deep change, I would follow the lead of those most involved in the charter review process, most notably the Coalition of Communities of Color (in partnership with City Club).

Transportation is the second biggest expense after housing, especially for people who live in transportation deserts (e.g.,large parts of E Portland). A central part of my platform is the development of a free public transit that is competitive with automobile use, so I support expanding on the Rose Lane Project by creating a network of bus rapid transit lines that reach into underserved areas of outer Portland.

 

2. East Portland lags behind the rest of the city in personal incomes and job opportunities. What will you do to increase the number of family-wage jobs in East Portland?

Low wages and high rents are critical contributors to the economic issues facing BIPOC and working class communities. As a community organizer, I have worked tirelessly to pass a minimum wage increase law (15 now) and to pass legislation that would limit rent increases and economic displacement. For example, Portland passed the temporary Relocation Assistance Ordinance, which I co-authored. I will continue to fight for stronger minimum wage legislation with automatic yearly increases indexed to CPI. I will also continue to fight  for laws that protect vulnerable people from economic eviction and housing insecurity.

The ongoing Pandemic and Climate crisis has underscored the need to implement a rapid and just transition towards resilient and sustainable communities.  As a strong and committed supporter of the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefit Fund (PCEF) and the proposed Oregon Green New Deal, I would take the lead on fighting for large-scale jobs programs that prioritize vulnerable residents in East Portland, including BIPOC and low income folk. At the local level I would work to expand and strengthen PCEF while also working with elected officials and community orgs to lobby the state and federal governments to pass “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All”  legislation that addresses the magnitude of the climate crisis and public health crisis.

Too many Portlanders have been forced into the gig economy. The city should stop cutting important services like parks and community centers and expand them instead, since such services remain in high demand and provide living wage jobs. Expanding the Summerworks jobs program would also alleviate economic pain. The city’s Office of Equity could be expanded to have more authority to directly intervene in labor issues that involve discrimination. Contracts that the city has with vendors should have boilerplate community labor agreements that include strong language around hiring women and people of color, which could be expanded upon request of labor and community groups.

Also exacerbating economic injustice are the city’s regressive taxes, such as the gas and arts tax and the base-fee structure of utilities. There should be a renewed focus on taxing the wealthiest residents and big business to fund basic services and on ending regressive taxes and fees that hurt low-income folks.

 

3. Portland is experiencing a severe housing crisis, and East Portland residents are particularly vulnerable to displacement. What tools will you implement to prevent involuntary displacement of low-income people from East Portland?

Because I was one of the primary architects of the relocation assistance ordinance, and served on the Relocation technical advisory committee and Portland’s Rental Services Commission (RSC), I know the policy, powermap, and legal constraints inside and out. A summary of some of my top legislative and regulatory priorities are:

Lift the state ban on rent control so we can have REAL RENT CONTROL in Portland

Keep people housed and prevent homelessness through increased tenant protections, universal eviction defense and prevention.

House the homeless and create decent, zero-barrier permanent supportive housing with robust wrap around services for the folks who need it.

Demand a HOUSING WAGE FOR ALL.

Reforming relocation and lifting the ban on rent control will be top priorities of mine if elected. Supporting the right of tenants to collectively bargain their leases and rent is also a priority. I’ve researched ways to create policy around this issue, based on how labor unions bargain contracts for wages and benefits and, even more relevantly, how HUD has already incorporated these rights affirmatively into their policies for their residents. I will continue to champion this policy because I believe it’s essential to enable tenants to have a real say over their living conditions and to provide them basic housing security. Everyone should have a union.

I also support a requirement for tenant legal representation during eviction proceedings, including a mechanism to provide it. Current data with regards to this suggests that 90% of landlords are legally represented in eviction court, and 90% of tenants aren’t. As a tenant organizer and advocate who often accompanies tenants to eviction court for moral support, I have seen the devastating impact of our expedited eviction process on unrepresented tenants who have no option but to believe whatever they are told in court, and sign whatever agreement is offered to them, often to their great detriment and when they have very valid defenses which could dramatically change the outcomes.  It is unconscionable that we do not offer or require legal counsel for tenants in this situation already, and our homelessness crisis is one very visible outcome. Any renter who needs a lawyer should have access to one, but I will also prioritize creating new structures and institutions within the city’s bureaus that can serve tenants in this regard without having to go through a court process.

 

4. What is your strategy to bring East Portland’s street infrastructure up to the standard of the rest of the city?

East Portland has experienced decades of unacceptable neglect when it comes to upgrading its street infrastructure to basic city standards. Until we have adequately addressed these deep transportation disparities, I support freezing non-essential projects in more developed, transportation-rich areas in order to refocus our energy and funding towards infrastructure-starved areas.  Existing infrastructure disparities must be fixed so that people feel safe walking, rolling, or cycling to transit stops or their destinations in all out communities. I would work with EPAP and other East Portland community organizations to ensure that the City of Portland prioritizes completion of the missing sidewalks, safe routes to school, signaled crosswalks, and high-quality bike lanes identified by the community itself. We cannot have equity if historically neglected communities do not have a democratic and participatory voice in budgeting and implementation of transportation projects.

Transportation is the second biggest expense after housing — especially for those living in East Portland and other areas that have experienced chronic neglect by the City of Portland. That's why a central part of my platform is the development of a free public transit system that serves the needs of workers, families, and people across Portland. If Portland is serious about addressing transportation inequality and climate change, free public transit is an important solution already at work in cities around the world. In addition to being economically accessible, transit must be efficient and easy to use so I very strongly support expanding on the Rose Lane Project by creating a network of bus rapid transit lines that reach into all of East Portland and connect it with job centers. And again the funding and implementation of rapid transit lanes must be decided by democratic participatory engagement, not by a top-down approach with a limited set of options.

Because it will take time to build a world-class mass transit system in East Portland, I also support robust transitional subsidy of less-polluting driving options. For example, the city of Portland should offer subsidies for electric-vehicle purchases by lower-income Portlanders and build a network of subsidized EV car-share hubs in areas underserved by transit or with concentrations of housing insecure folk.

 

5. If you are elected, what is your vision of East Portland a decade from now? What is your strategy to get us there?

My vision for East Portland is of an economically vibrant and healthy community that has been empowered to democratically decide its future. I also envisage a community that has safe and livable streets, easy access to needed amenities (e.g. grocery stores, childcare, healthcare), and abundant permanently-affordable housing (e.g. community land trusts and non-profit housing).

I do not believe this goal is readily achievable when power is concentrated in downtown Portland. As city commissioner, I will hold regular, accessible, and family-friendly office hours in East Portland and will work to open full satellite offices for city council there — if not a wholesale move of city hall to Gateway, the approximate geographic center of the city. In the interim, I would demand that the city regularly hold city council and commission meetings in E Portland and other outlying neighborhoods. I will also demand that important city bureaus, such as PBOT,  have satellite offices in East Portland.

Given that Portland has a long history of  failing to live up to its pledges of equity in East Portland,  I believe that implementing participatory decision-making and budgeting should be a priority. The city should follow the lead of Richmond CA and work with East Portland residents and community orgs to create a model for democratic determination of city investments (that could then be applied city-wide).

 

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