By Representative Nick Kahl (D-Rockwood).
Jeffrey Jeremy Wright’s post, “Why progressives should support the MLS to PDX proposal,” he supposed that to challenge the use of urban renewal dollars in this instance is to challenge the validity of urban renewal itself. Well, I am offering a challenge. I am not against the idea of major league soccer in Portland, but against the way that the project will be funded. In other words, I challenge the way urban renewal is presently practiced. There is no doubt that some of these districts have been wildly successful, but successful for whom?
Portland is a city marked by gentrification and the flight of poverty to the city's outer core. Part of the flight has come to my district, 49. It is out of sight and out of mind and my neighbors are suffering.
Urban renewal can be an effective tool to address urban blight, as long as the public is presented with an accurate assessment of the trade-offs that are being made, relevant stakeholders are given a seat at the table and the most vulnerable members of these “blighted” communities are also benefited. The establishment of an urban renewal district in this area, an area that includes a MAX line, expensive condos and the Multnomah Athletic Club hardly constitutes “blight removal.” Perhaps as a result of statutory ambiguity and a lack of objective criteria, “blight” may truly be in the eyes of the beholder. However such a district would socialize private risk, subvert the legitimacy and intent of the urban renewal laws, and would effectively constitute Robin Hood-in-reverse.
Multnomah County is facing a budget shortfall of $45 million. This is after cutting their budgets over the last eight years. This latest shortfall will not be solved simply by belt tightening; this will result in the elimination of entire programs. Meanwhile, Multnomah County forgoes $20 million dollars every year in property tax revenues from urban renewal areas. These dollars could otherwise go to fund a SUN school at every school in the county, 42 School Based Health Clinics, or 1,100 treatment beds for the mentally ill. Because of these opportunity costs, Multnomah County should have a seat at the table with the City of Portland when discussing all areas of urban renewal. Urban renewal should not only address housing and infrastructure needs but also the social needs of the community itself as a mechanism of shared prosperity rather than a transfer of wealth.
Because of this, I am proposing legislation that will offer a seat at the table to Multnomah County. House Bill 2615 will do the following: Require county approval by counties with a population of at least 300,000 for the establishment of new urban renewal districts; allow urban renewal funds to be used for social services within the urban renewal area; and require an economic viability study for the proposed plan with and without the provision of social services. This proposed legislation was recently discussed in a Willamette Week article by Nigel Jaquiss entitled Curbin’ Renewal.
Again, I am not against major league soccer coming to Portland. I just don’t want soccer at the expense of my constituents and neighbors. These residents are some among many who will be denied the social services they need now more than ever as a result of foregone revenue used to fund the proposed stadium.