Let My City Go!

Nicholas Caleb

If we want to be the most equitable city in the nation, we can’t just attempt to make Portland barely affordable for the lucky ones. We have to go above and beyond what is currently the political common sense and do everything we can to improve the lives of residents.

Let My City Go!

"Let my people go!"

The election story in Oregon is about the Democratic gains in the state legislature, which ensure a solid majority and eliminates the Betsy Johnson “I’m against everything” roadblock to progressive legislation. Already, I’m intrigued by what I hear from the rumor mill regarding carbon taxes, background checks, and especially a potential repeal of the current state preemption on inclusionary zoning, which allows cities and counties to require a percentage of new construction to consist of affordable housing. In Portland, this is a much needed tool for protecting precarious workers and the poor from what so far has been a tsunami of rising rents and shiny, new expensive housing as a consequence of the current development boom.

While inclusionary zoning is extremely important in Portland’s quest to create a just and equitable city, the residents would also benefit immensely from the repeal of two other state preemptions: (1) minimum wage, and (2) rent control.

Though the Oregon Democratic Party’s platform fails to mention raising the minimum wage, Democratic politicians, such as Brad Avakian, have hinted that a minimum wage of $12 could be on the way. Regardless of what happens at the state level, Portland needs to be able to raise the minimum wage right now (preferably to a nearer-to-living-wage of $15/hr) to help working families offset the enormous increases in the cost of housing and basic goods and services. Already, the $15/hr frame is winning in Portland, with Multnomah County agreeing to pay its employees at least $15/hr and seasonal parks workers and Home Forward employees successfully negotiating an above $15/hr minimum wage. In addition, numerous members of city council (who I’m sure weren’t just posturing because they thought the preemption would prevent the possibility of acting on the sentiment) have claimed publicly that the minimum wage must be raised in Portland. The stage is set and we just need the legislature to allow us to govern ourselves.

Rent control is also an important tool in a city that currently does little more than nothing to protect renters. In Portland, development policy is completely aimed at satisfying developers (including large and corrupt realty companies) and financiers. At present, the best the working class can hope for is that supply and demand dynamics will lead to lower prices (which is a highly dubious assumption for reasons I won’t get into at present). Even the affordable housing programs in Portland are woefully inadequate and exclude large swaths of the working poor who are being priced out of the city. In Seattle, socialist Jess Spear was able to move newly re-elected Democratic House Speaker Frank Chopp to support the removal of Washington’s rent control preemption. Oregon Dems should follow his example and lift this state’s preemption on rent control.

If we want to be the most equitable city in the nation, we can’t just attempt to make Portland barely affordable for the lucky ones. We have to go above and beyond what is currently the political common sense and do everything we can to improve the lives of residents. Right now, that means controlling costs, ensuring affordable housing, and mandating a living wage. In three simple steps, the Oregon legislature can get us closer to that reality.

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