Candidate Forum October 2020
The AHC asked the candidates for Mayor and Commissioner about their views on equity, livability, and emergency preparedness issues as they relate to the city’s built environment. Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner candidate Mingus Mapps participated with this recent round of questions, and Mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone and write-in candidate Teressa Raiford participated in the May primary forum. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly did not participate. Thank you to the candidates for sharing their ideas.
QUESTION 1 – For more than 25 years, the Architectural Heritage Center has partnered with Portland’s African American community to document, recognize, and protect buildings and places that acknowledge the Black experience in Portland. This work culminated in a recent major documentation project, just approved by the National Park Service, which makes it easier to list properties associated with the Black experience in Portland in the National Register of Historic Places. What efforts would you take to strengthen historic preservation policies to further ensure the recognition of Portland’s African American places, culture, and history?
Ted Wheeler, Mayor – I recognize the power of national register designation to protect and preserve important historical properties. And I appreciate the work of the Center to lift up and celebrate the history of Portland’s Black community. As we look ahead to a better, more just future, we must learn from and build on our collective past. I am very interested in learning how historic preservation policies can help make sure we keep hold of our history, and partnering to further memorialize the places and culture of Black Portlanders.
Mingus Mapps, Commissioner – The fact that only three spaces in Portland are on the National Register because of their ties to local black history is an example of the systematic erasure of black history here in Portland. That is why it is so important that Portland do more to identify, designate, and protect Portland’s historically significant African American spaces. On City Council, my strategy for accomplishing that goal will focus on getting more historic buildings with roots in the African American community on the National Register, so those spaces will have some protection from demolition and will be eligible for grants and tax benefits that promote historic preservation. Here are some of the things the City can do to promote the preservation of historic black spaces: The City should assemble a full inventory of Portland buildings and spaces of historic significance. The City should identify and eliminate barriers that make it difficult to get black spaces on the Historic Registry. Finally, the Bureau of Development Services needs to be a better partner in preserving our historic spaces. This can be done by reducing fees charged for renovations to historic properties and by simplifying the permitting and process for inspecting historically significant buildings.
QUESTION 2- A major earthquake could impact thousands of older and historic buildings throughout Portland, including the approximately 1,650 unreinforced masonry buildings and thousands of single-family residences that have not been seismically retrofitted. These are the buildings and homes that offer affordable places to work, play, and live. What specific ideas do you have to address the citywide need for seismic upgrades to its older buildings – including single family homes, apartments, commercial buildings, and houses of worship – that would engage all impacted community members and work toward a positive, rather than punitive solution?
Ted Wheeler, Mayor – I believe we all share the twin priorities of safety and affordability, and we need to start from a place of partnership with historic building owners. This is a complex public policy challenge, and we haven’t yet gotten it right. Council recently voted to disband the unreinforced masonry work group, and I think this gives us a good opportunity to step back and start over with a focus on community engagement and solutions. There are big questions here – financial and otherwise – and we will only solve them together.
Mingus Mapps, Commissioner – When I am on City Council, I will prioritize earthquake preparedness by challenging Portland to develop policies that incentivize property owners to reinforce their buildings. In order to accomplish that goal, the City should rank its inventory of unreinforced masonry buildings by how essential they are, the threat they pose to public safety in the event of an earthquake, and their historic significance. The City should then work with property owners to protect and preserve our most important buildings. And because the cost of retrofitting buildings is substantial, the City should help all property owners prepare for earthquakes. The City could do this by using Portland Clean Energy Funds to help offset the cost of residential and commercial retrofits. The City could also adopt property tax exemptions to help offset the costs of retrofits. Similarly, the City could underwrite private loan programs for retrofits.
QUESTION 3 – Portland City Council will soon be voting on the Residential Infill Project (RIP). While certain to increase density, there is no guarantee that implementing RIP will increase housing affordability, and in fact, the opposite may be true. Studies have shown that lower-income residents in established neighborhoods, especially communities of color, will be forced out of rented single-family or multi-family homes, with little choice, but to either move to the suburbs or live in small apartments that lack the living and green spaces that are important parts of a thriving community. What proposals do you have to implement Portland’s Residential Infill Project that will encourage the maintenance of existing affordable housing and result in less displacement of low- and middle-income households and families with children?
Ted Wheeler, Mayor – I championed the Residential Infill Project, and I am proud that Council passed it this summer. And I know that we are now accountable for ensuring that we achieve the best-case potential of this policy. Many City bureaus have a part in that work, and I will work with my Council colleagues to keep driving toward the positive outcomes of this policy while avoiding the potential pitfalls. We must use all the tools in our toolkit, and we’ll probably have to develop new tools along the way as we watch this policy over time, but I believe that we are all committed to this goal.
Mingus Mapps, Commissioner – I opposed the Residential Infill Project because of the displacement it will cause in Portland’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. The City’s own estimates predict that RIP will incentivize developers to buy cheap, single-family homes and replace them with unaffordable duplexes and triplexes. The City expects this dynamic to displace hundreds of families in neighborhoods like Lents, Montavilla and Brentwood-Darlington.
Although I am disappointed in the version of RIP that was passed by City Council, I am committed to fixing its flaws. In the short term, I am excited about helping Community Development Corporations and other nonprofits develop below-market housing through RIP’s “Deeper Affordability Bonus”. And in the long term, I will challenge the City to develop and implement meaningful anti-displacement programs.
QUESTION 4 – With an incomplete inventory that is nearly 40 years old, the City of Portland has never fully documented the historic resources within city limits. This makes it difficult for anyone to understand the buildings, neighborhoods, structures, and spaces that are important to the community. At the same time, the review process for renovating historic properties currently falls under the umbrella of the City’s Bureau of Development Services. The burdensome fee structure associated with this process is highly inequitable and serves as a disincentive to preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods. How would you address the lack of recognition of historic properties citywide and the inequities in the current system in order to encourage sustainable historic preservation and make it possible for current and future generations to enjoy a more complete Portland story?
Ted Wheeler, Mayor – I’m proud that the final RIP package disincentivized demolition of historic resources. That was an important protection. Council must continue to prioritize affordability and sustainability in our planning and code updates – and, at the same time, in every decision we should be aware of the proposal’s impact on our historic properties and we should do what we can to protect these properties from any unintended consequences. As a native Portlander, I strongly agree that the story told by our historic buildings is an essential piece of our history, and is something that we must preserve for future generations.
Mingus Mapps, Commissioner – This question points to two significant failings in Portland’s approach to historic preservation. First, Portland lacks a complete and up-to-date inventory of its historic spaces. Second, too often the City of Portland’s bureaucracy stands in the way of preserving our historic spaces. I have plans for fixing both problems. First, the City should conduct a full census of its historic resources. Second, let’s reform the Bureau of Development Service so that instead of BDS being an obstacle that the historic preservation community must overcome, BES becomes a partner in protecting Portland’s historically significant spaces.