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Economic Resilience

For a better Portland through and beyond the COVID crisis

Listen to this policy's Podcast Episode

“Resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events—both natural and manmade—and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.” Wellington, NZ, Community Resilience Strategy

“No matter how aware and ready we may be, things still go wrong and disruptions often confound all our plans and preparations. Social cohesion is the First Responder.” Judith Rodin, Rockefeller Foundation

Dear Neighbor,

When we launched this campaign in July 2019, we did not predict that we’d find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic on the eve of the May 2020 primary. Yet today, the COVID-19 virus has spread around the globe infecting hundreds of thousands of people with devastating effects on families, businesses, communities, organizations, and systems which just three months ago felt unbreakable. COVID-19 has disrupted our lives at a scale that few people alive today have ever witnessed.

Let’s walk back in a time a bit (for those of you old enough to remember) to December 31, 1999. On the eve of Y2K, many Americans were stocking up on food, water and guns in anticipation of a computer bug induced apocalypse. Not me. As the new Millennium rang in across the Pacific, I was in a delivery room at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center giving birth. While the chaos many feared from a computer glitch never ensued (in part because our government had addressed the problem well in advance through intensive coordination and investment), becoming a parent for the first time in that moment of anxiety instilled in me an unwavering commitment to engage with uncertainty not from a position of fear, but as an opportunity for growth.

I had no other choice but to forge ahead boldly into the unknown.

I share this deeply personal anecdote with you because I want you to feel confident that I possess the temperament, knowledge, networks, and real-life experience to lead our city in chaotic, volatile, complex, and ambiguous times. At each turn in my life, I’ve had to adapt my personal goals, my parenting, my business model, my finances, and my career plans to increasingly chaotic conditions.

In the wake of COVID-19, the policies I’ve proposed throughout this campaign are more relevant than ever.

The policies and plans my campaign team and I proposed even before the pandemic struck -- My Green New Deal for Our Portland, Rethinking Public Safety, Housing for All, and Good Government -- reflect my deep understanding that uncertainty and instability are the new normal; progressive cities like Portland can play an important role modeling how to stabilize communities in the the midst of global economic and political upheaval.

Fear and anxiety can undermine our resilience and limit our ability to make critical decisions that will affect our city for generations to come. At this critical time in Portland’s history, we must transform fear into action and come together not simply to navigate the uncertainty and survive the chaos but to carve out a better future in a period of intense transformation.

Let’s be honest, the “normal” we’re leaving behind wasn’t working for most Portlanders anyway. Increasing homelessness, rising housing costs, stagnant wages, traffic congestion, air and water pollution, systemic racism, rising greenhouse gas emissions, big money in politics, and neighborhoods divided over growth was our everyday reality.

We must seize this opportunity to craft a future that makes ours a city that truly works for all Portlanders. Do I have all the answers? Not even close. But at this critical time, we need leadership with the courage to admit ignorance when necessary and a passion for tapping into the collective knowledge of community daily; leadership with the nimbleness and flexibility to forge creative new partnerships; leadership with the ground-level intelligence and robust networks to tackle challenges day-to-day while planning for the long game; leadership with a crystal clear vision of the big picture so that as we gather new information and data from unconventional sources we can adapt quickly and succeed without losing sight of our goals.

We need leadership that can look at the world as it is and still maintain hope that a better future is possible.

I’ve said it from day one and my faith in this city is stronger than ever: we have everything we need to solve our most pressing problems today by empowering our people and organizing our communities into a formidable force for change.

With that in mind, I have proposed a series of policies to rebuild our community for resilience on the other side of this crisis.

We’ve got this, Portland.

Sarah’s signature

Progress through the Pandemic

Office of Community Resilience

In December of 2016, I submitted to then mayor-elect Ted Wheeler a policy proposal titled, “Sustainable Governance for the 21st Century: City of Portland Office of Community Resilience.” He ignored it out of hand and in doing so passed up an opportunity for a $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to help fund the effort.

If I had been elected mayor in 2016, we would be better prepared today for the COVID-19 crisis as well as the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake that could still happen any day now. Disaster readiness will be most efficiently, effectively, and equitably achieved through the merger of several existing city bureaus and civic functions under an Office of Community Resilience. If elected mayor, I am committed to bringing this idea to fruition within my first 100 days in office.

As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the next best is today. Below is the exact wording of my proposal to Mayor Wheeler four years ago. It’s never too late to get started doing the right thing!

“Resilient cities are well prepared with the empowered, connected communities necessary to face the challenges of increasing uncertainty. Portland is not adequately prepared for a natural, economic, or (as the recent presidential election protests demonstrated) political upheaval. Despite a robust culture of community planning, a recently released city audit revealed that existing programs to ensure community cohesion and public participation in planning and governance processes are disorganized, outdated, and lacking accountability. Meanwhile, the Auditor's “Community Survey” for 2016 revealed significantly decreased approval ratings among Portlanders about the livability, affordability, and accessibility of their city. National news stories pointing to an earthquake “any day now” in the Cascadia Subduction Zone as possibly the worst natural disaster in US history have spurred many Portlanders to readiness, yet there is much yet to be done.

Here is a sampling of the obstacles to preparedness Portland faces:

How can Portland address these problems while improving livability and ensuring equitable prosperity for its residents? New leadership in City Hall offers a prime opportunity to reframe several of the city’s most vexing challenges as opportunities within a framework of community-driven disaster preparedness and emergency management. With creativity, commitment to equity, and empirically-driven decision-making, we can address this diverse yet intersecting set of problems by:

Rebuilding our Economy & Workforce

Portland has a long history of striving toward economic resiliency. Our recent comprehensive plan update, adopted by Portland City Council in June of 2016, commits us to “a low-carbon economy [that] foster[s] employment growth, competitiveness, and equitably distributed household prosperity.” Yet according to economist Mohamed El-Erian, president-elect of Queens College, “no one knows” how long the current economic crisis will last and that restarting the economy is a lot more than just “flicking on a switch.”

A return to economic “normalcy” is neither possible nor desirable. The current crisis is an opportunity for us to transcend the hypocrisy that for too long has defined the abyss between Portland’s words (“equity,” “sustainability” etc.) and our outcomes (increasing inequality, rising GHG emissions, etc.) and begin realistically transitioning away from our growth-at-all-costs, fossil fuel dependent economy.

This is going to take a comprehensive economic strategy like that proposed in Sarah’s Green New Deal for Portland (audio summary). The ongoing economic crisis has already resulted in record low interest rates and the Federal Reserve Bank taking the unprecedented step of securing municipal bond investments, meaning (perhaps counterintuitively) that it may be one of the best possible times to make large municipal investments in a more sustainable future.

We can put people to work with good union jobs building the public infrastructure we need to reduce carbon emissions and seismic vulnerability while improving accessibility, equity, and resilience. Similarly, the city has a role to play in securing the economic viability of the small business sector by ensuring low or capped commercial rents, making small business grants and loans available during the crisis, and assisting entrepreneurs in starting new small businesses once the COVID crisis has subsided.

Let’s take this opportunity to develop new economic indicators to drive policies that spur equitable growth in wellbeing while reducing our reliance on natural resources. In contrast to the spirit of austerity that has undermined government effectiveness and our social safety net for the last half century, we need a vigorous expansion of the public sector with spending on the things that improve our collective existence and make us safer and more resilient in future crises.

In times of chaos and uncertainty, we need economic policy driven by principles and desired outcomes for average Portlanders; not the interests of transnational corporations and lobbyists for big business.

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Thriving Cultural and Creative Economy

“What you measure is what you’ll get.”

Workforce Development

Public Works and Infrastructure Investments

Sustainable Urban Development

Restoring Our Public Safety

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare that as it exists today, Portland is not a safe place for all. Public safety encompasses everything from ending illegal police stops to creating spaces where residents can safely walk or play. For our unhoused neighbors, public safety means having clean water to drink, access to hygiene facilities, and a warm, dry, secure place to sleep at night.

We must put forth policies that respect that all who live, work, or play in our city have an inherent right to safety. Living under any threat of harm takes a measurable toll on Portlanders’ health outcomes, behavior, and quality of life. Ensuring physical and mental safety frees our citizens to focus on thriving in their individual lives and building up their communities. Protecting the wellbeing of our city’s most marginalized means that those who are struggling won’t be further burdened—and will, in fact, have a better chance of success—through the choices and priorities we establish in City Hall.

As we are learning the hard way through this crisis, public safety is much more than an individual dilemma: we are facing a number of overlapping public health crises. Now is the time for us to radically redefine “safety” to serve all of our residents. The disparities highlighted by COVID-19 have been here all along for communities of color, people without housing, undocumented individuals, children, and seniors.

Sarah understands that Portlanders are safer when their basic needs are met. We cannot begin to tackle these issues without an explicit focus on historical oppression, class struggle, and intersectionality. Through lived experience and in conversation with Portlanders from all walks of life, Sarah has developed a comprehensive Rethinking Public Safety plan to holistically reshape public safety in our city. As mayor, Sarah will remain committed to moving beyond the City’s equity rhetoric to defining and achieving quantifiable metrics and deploying targeted investments to reduce key disparities across Portland’s communities.

The General Fund discretionary budgets in the public safety service area comprise over 60% of the City’s total available discretionary resources. Unlike the incumbent, who has proposed a 2% cut to the public safety budget in coming years, Sarah will not decrease the public safety budget but will instead focus on reforms to use the existing funding levels more wisely to ensure the safety of all Portlanders, including:

Secure Housing for All

For too long, we have allowed the whims of the market and the drive for corporate profits to outweigh the public’s interest in promoting diversity, equity, and opportunity in our city. We’ve had our heads in the sand about what housing is “affordable” to whom. This has left us with watered-down tenant protections and a shortage of the housing that our people actually need. At the root of our housing crisis are the same set of policy decisions that cause poverty, segregation, displacement, inadequate infrastructure, unsafe living conditions, and insecurity for renters. We need to rethink our priorities as a community to focus on raising household incomes, reducing racial and economic segregation, and ending rampant speculation without benefit to local residents.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Portland’s housing status quo was unsustainable. It’s more apparent now than ever that the housing solutions Sarah is proposing aren’t radical; they’re essential. Our answers to this crisis shouldn’t be driven by corporate lobbyists from the real estate and business sectors, but through a collaborative, community-based approach to housing all Portlanders.

Ending the Housing State of Emergency

Sarah knows we need to treat an emergency with urgency. Her Five-Year Strategic Plan for Ending Portland’s Housing State of Emergency (2021-2025) led by the Progressive Task Force for Housing All Portlanders is a multi-stakeholder, cross-sector, cross-bureau task force that will to assess housing inventory and needs of Portlanders across the income spectrum; evaluate existing and explore new revenue streams; and propose a coordinated plan to close Portland’s housing gap by 2025 through a combination of good governance, political courage, and fiscal clarity.

This task force will oversee three deliverables concurrently in the first year of Sarah's administration (2021):

  1. Community-led strategic planning. Following a lengthy, state-mandated comprehensive plan update, Portland’s world-class planning bureau is in need of re-orientation toward neighborhood-sensitive, community-led planning processes to identify opportunities to house people experiencing homelessness and keep people emplaced while integrating economic development, job creation, quality of life, and larger land-use patterns into our housing strategy.
  2. Strategic governance re-alignment. We need better communication and coordination among City bureaus, private-sector and community-based partners. Agencies that prevent displacement and connect residents to affordable and supportive housing are essential to a successful housing strategy.
  3. Progressive revenue evaluation. There is a significant amount of money available across the spectrum of housing options flowing into the city from various pipelines, but these monies are not being strategically coordinated nor leveraged for better outcomes. There is significant tax inequity between property owners in East Portland and the rest of the city that needs to be evaluated and corrected through assessment recalibration and possible implementation of a land value tax (LVT). We are also leaving revenue on the table that we could be capturing for public investments in shelters and permanent housing.

Renter Protections

Sarah was the first local candidate to recognize the potential impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on our most vulnerable Portlanders. Back on March 10, 2020 she called for a comprehensive, proactive community response. In the meantime, policymakers have made some progress, including a temporary ban on evictions for non-payment of rent due to lost income associated with the COVID-19 pandemic for residential and commercial tenants.

While social distancing measures may have reduced the spread of the virus, many Portlanders have lost significant income and even their jobs in addition to all of the other immediate costs of coping with the outbreak. The widespread impacts of the epidemic are making clear to the majority what so many vulnerable renters have long known: too many Portlanders are just one crisis away from losing their housing and ending up on the streets. That’s why we need policies and investments to protect tenants-- rain or shine.

Renters rights are consumer protections and our last line of defense against homelessness. Nearly half (47%) of Portland households are occupied by renters. Even as our economy expands, people at the lowest end of the economic spectrum are facing rising rents alongside stagnant wages; many continue to move out of Portland to more affordable rental housing in East Multnomah County, increasing commute times counter to our climate action goals. We must foreground the fight for increased stability and protections for renters as a matter of local prosperity and resilience. Portland Housing Bureau's Rental Services Office (RSO) and Rental Services Commissions (RSC) are first steps, but we must do more to ensure these protections are robust, transparent, accountable, and fully-funded.

In the near-term, Sarah supports the COVID 19 — State of Emergency Housing Security Package proposed by Portland Tenants United to stabilize vulnerable Portlanders.

Sarah will also commit to the following renter protections if she is elected mayor:

For Sarah’s complete Housing for All policy, please visit sarah2020.com/housing.

Restoring Trust in Government

Sarah is running for mayor because she understands that city government is one of the most important levels for problem-solving, not the lowest on the food chain below federal, state, and county. It’s a time-worn saying that holds more true now than ever: we must think globally but act locally. As a city, we have the power to improve outcomes in our residents’ everyday lives while leading on solutions to global crises like the rise of authoritarianism, climate chaos, and staggering inequality.

For Portland to achieve our goals we must ensure we have a healthy democracy no longer powered by big money and special interests but by community-based politics. Sarah firmly believes that we have everything we need to make radical progress on our most pressing issues today, but our 19th and 20th Century governance models aren’t equipped to handle the increasing chaos of the 21st Century. This election, we have the opportunity to dismantle outdated institutions and begin building new government models based on the values of resiliency, inclusivity, and community prosperity that we all share.