There will always be people who want to paint the issue of housing as an either/or proposition — either livable neighborhoods or dense development — and line up opponents on both sides for a good fight. Portland Tribune's coverage of Business for a Better Portland's forum on housing earlier this month suggested that BBPDX, which represents 400 businesses and organizations of all sizes in and around Portland, is squaring off against neighborhood associations in a battle for more housing options. That's not at all the ethos of Business for a Better Portland.
We're here to tell you that the issue of housing — and the critical housing shortage that is facing cities across the country — isn't that simple.
What we and BBPDX are advocating for is a deeper conversation about housing as it relates to the conditions needed for our economy to thrive and all of us to enjoy safety and stability in homes we can afford.
Portland's housing crisis is in evidence every night that individuals without homes are sleeping on the street and every day a business tries to hire diverse, local talent only to find that none of them can afford to live nearby. We need to look no further than the Bay Area to see how this trend plays out. In Oakland there is a category of people — the "working homeless" — who have jobs but nowhere affordable to live.
We recognize that what we are experiencing is not simply a housing crisis, but a housing shortage. If you solve the shortage, you don't solve the whole crisis, but you also can't solve the crisis without solving the shortage. We believe there are investments we can make to keep our remaining affordable homes affordable and to build more houses and apartments before the crisis worsens.
But we also believe that if we're going to solve this problem we have to really understand it. We have to have conversations with those impacted by the housing crisis. We have to collaborate with city officials, businesses, housing advocates and Portlanders of all walks of life to find an equitable path forward on housing options, affordability and the preservation of a quality of life we can all enjoy.
We all know that Portland's deep rooted history of racism is manifested in our zoning code. Look at historic redlining maps of Portland compared to where triplexes and other housing types are restricted and you'll see the parallels.
But while there is a racist history to face and a current crisis to wrangle, we also believe we have an opportunity to create positive change in Portland. Fortunately, cities across Oregon got an assist from state government with the passage this year of HB 2001 — which requires cities to allow more duplexes and other housing types in neighborhoods previously zoned exclusively for single-family houses — and SB 608, which offers renters protection from unfair evictions and excessive rent hikes.
As the first state in the nation to allow more housing types in all urban residential neighborhoods, Oregon is making the kind of gutsy policy move we need to address the housing crisis. It also means that Portland isn't the only city that will be grappling with how to implement these much needed zoning changes.
A collaborative mindset will get us there much faster than a pitched battle over who gets to live where.
Ernest Brown is a board member of East Bay for Everyone. Leslie Carlson is the principal and owner of Brink Communications.
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