Affordable housing advocates endorse Portland charter reform measure

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The ballots are already out, but the endorsements keep coming in.

Last week, a coalition of Portland’s leading affordable housing advocates endorsed the charter reform proposal on this November’s ballot, Measure 26-228.

Central City Concern, Hacienda CDC, Our Just Future, and Portland: Neighbors Welcome joined the long list of civic, good governance and union groups supporting the measure.

Related: Opinion: Portland’s irrational fear of off-road cycling

Kim McCarty, the Executive Director of the Community Alliance of Tenants, the state’s largest tenant advocacy organization, said “Measure 26-228 is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to align Portland’s city government in a way that is more responsive to and representative of the nearly 50% of Portlanders who are tenants.”

The advocates also expressed concern about disincentives to building affordable housing that would result from an alternative charter proposal recently floated by Commissioner Mingus Mapps. The Mapps concept would divide the city into smaller, single-representative districts, with a possible seven to nine districts mentioned.

A powerful New York Times opinion piece by Ezra Klein, The Way Los Angeles Is Trying to Solve Homelessness Is ‘Absolutely Insane,’ illustrates what those disincentives to building affordable housing might look like. The Los Angeles City Controller told Klein,

“We want the best possible housing for everybody . . . But let’s stop making the perfect the enemy of the good, or the good enough. How do we create more micro units or shared units? What about dormitory-style units, where maybe you don’t have your own kitchen but you have a place to eat in the building? . . . These aren’t perfect approaches, but with so many people dying every day, there has to be a sense of urgency.”

And what is standing in the way? Many things, but part of the problem is the neighbors. Klein quotes local homeowners opposed to a 140-unit building for homeless and low-income families which is planned to be built in a city-owned parking lot:

The development is being fought and even sued by a collection of local homeowners who charge, among other things, that “Venice desperately needs this parcel to address our chronic parking shortage,” that the new housing would be “an eyesore completely divorced from sound architectural principles” and that it is being developed “with no environmental review in a designated tsunami zone and FEMA Special Flood Hazard Zone.”

It turns out that keeping the neighbors happy is expensive. Multiple redesigns, star architects, aesthetic concessions, lawyers—those things cost real money, and they end up jacking-up building expenses.

But another problem might be the system of governance itself. According to a recently published research paper, Warding Off Development: Local Control, Housing Supply, and NIMBYs, economist Evan Mast shows that a move from “at-large” elections to smaller, single-member district representation results in a 20% drop in housing unit permits. He explores the history of different voting methods—for example, at-large voting as a way for a majority bloc to suppress the representation of a minority bloc. And he posits that the decentralization achieved through smaller districts gives rise to NIMBYism. Using statistical methods, Mast shows, empirically, a strong correlation between decentralized voting methods and lower housing growth. (A pre-publication, working version of the paper is available here.)

And what about Los Angeles? It has 15 single-member districts, just the sort of system Mast says invites NIMBYism.

Former BikePortland news editor Michael Andersen sees a move to smaller, LA-style single-district representation as “the sort of switch proposed by Portland’s Commissioner Mapps.” In a recent article for the Sightline Institute, Andersen surveys the relation between housing affordability and the local form of government. He concludes that there is reason to think that a winner-take-all system that would elect its entire council from smaller, one-winner districts “would throw fuel on the fire of Portland’s deep housing shortage.”

Intuitively, it makes sense that small districts invite local thinking at the expense of what is good or needed for the city as a whole. The seven districts of the Mapps concept happen to be the same number as Portland’s seven coalitions of neighborhood associations. But nine districts is also being floated.

Measure 26-228 also divides Portland into districts, but only four large ones. The idea is that the districts are large enough to avoid the NIMBYism of smaller geographic representation. And with ranked choice and single transferable votes, a fuller expression of voter concerns can percolate up to electable candidates. I’ve noticed that discussions of Measure 26-228 tend to focus on candidates and identities, but I think of single transferable vote as a way of capturing the range of topics and ideas that voters care about, not just the top one or two hot-button issues.


Disclosure: Lisa Caballero, in her role as the transportation lead of her neighborhood association, was involved with local opposition to a proposed multi-unit townhouse development. The development was approved.

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Jay Cee
Jay Cee
3 months ago

Wow y’all are really pushing this disaster of a measure pretty hard. We need reform but this is the wrong measure, it’s horrible

  • Only a 25% threshold for multi member district council members to elected means the lower quality or extreme candidates will end up running the city
  • Multi council member districts will decrease accountability within the district with no guidance for who a citizen should turn to in the district with an issue
  • Only four districts will mean they will have to be very large way too big to be able to fairly represent the needs of the all citizens of the district. Ie one district for inner southeast could also be the same district that represents far outer southeast.
  • Even less power for future mayors we elect to steer the ship and get things done.
Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Jay Cee

Jay,

If you or anyone you know wants to write something about why folks should vote no — beyond the dozens of excellent comments that have expressed that sentiment already — please get in touch. I hear you about it looking like we are “pushing” this. That’s not by design necesssarily, it just happens to have turned out that way.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
3 months ago

Don’t get me wrong Johnathan, I totally appreciate the work you and your team does for the community! Seriously. It’s just this measure seems wrong. All I know is what I’ve read, so I’m no expert. It would be cool if someone in the community in the know, and not a lobbyist, would contribute some opposing views to this measure.

idlebytes
idlebytes
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Only a 25% threshold for multi member district council members to elected means the lower quality or extreme candidates will end up running the city

This isn’t true at all. How the votes get apportioned mean you still need to be popular across the whole district to get to that threshold. We have fringe candidates in the primary they get what 1-10% of the vote at the most right? Well when they run in multi-member district they’ll still draw that small amount of support which won’t get them to the threshold.

Go back to any primary and show me an extreme candidate that gets 25% of the vote. Look at the most recent primary as an example. Hardesty got 44% of the vote. So when she hit the 25% + 1 threshold her votes would be doled out to peoples’ second choices. Most likely enough of that 19% would have gone to Vadim and Rene. They had 22 and 23% respectively and only would have needed to convince a couple percent of Jo Ann supporters to vote for them. Not much of a stretch. No one else that ran got more then 5% of the vote. I’m no fan of Vadim or Rene but I think it’s fair if 25% of the City wants them to represent their opinions.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

Of course extreme and single issue candidates would be elected. That’s the whole point of election reform, to make it easier for candidates who could never get elected today to get elected tomorrow. To better reflect the will of the people, a number of whom we know will support extremists.

It is impossible to say how people would rank candidates under a different system when only know is their first choice now.

cc_rider
cc_rider
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Of course extreme and single issue candidates would be elected. That’s the whole point of election reform, to make it easier for candidates who could never get elected today to get elected tomorrow.

Isn’t that great!? Instead of having to choose between whoever the PBA/PPA is pushing or whoever the Street Trust/SEIU is pushing, we can vote for candidates who we actually believe in.

I’ve voted in every election the entire time I’ve lived here and I’ve never cast a vote for city council I was enthusiastic for.

It is impossible to say how people would rank candidates under a different system when only know is their first choice now.

I want to meet some of these people you seem to know that can’t rank their preferences. I always have my preffered candidate that I don’t vote for because they are non-viable due to a lack of corporate support, and then I move down the line till I get to my preferred first viable candidate. I just can’t imagine people can’t figure this out

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Isn’t that great!?

That’s one take, I suppose.

that can’t rank their preferences

I said “impossible to predict” with the information we have, not “can’t be ranked”.

I always have my preffered candidate that I don’t vote for because they are non-viable

Just curious, who was/is your preferred non-viable candidate in the Hardesty race? Can you even name someone other than Hardesty, Gonzales, or Vadim who ran without checking? I pay pretty close attention, and I can’t.

There are many ranked choice/tranferable vote systems I would support, just not this one.

cc_rider
cc_rider
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

That’s one take, I suppose.

I mean, right now we are gettting candidates of such excellence as Ted Wheeler, Mingus Mapps, and Dan Ryan (is Carmen Rubio still living here?). When we have a slate of completely useless people running the city, I’m really struggling to see what I should be worried about with a new set-up.

I said “impossible to predict” with the information we have, not “can’t be ranked”.

Why do we need to predict anything? Are you saying we should have a less democratic and equitable system if the alternative elects people certain establishment entities don’t like?

Just curious, who was/is your preferred non-viable candidate in the Hardesty race? Can you even name someone other than Hardesty, Gonzales, or Vadim who ran without checking?

I actually think the Hardesty race is a pretty great example of why we need to change to the new system. At this point in time, why would anyone bother running if there was already a PBA/PPA candidate and a StreetTrust/SEIU candidate in the race? Campaigns are expensive and most people can’t finance a campaign against establishment candidates without establishment money.

I’m confident that many people who have interest and ability to be city councilers simply self-select out of the process because they are realists that know they can’t compete with the warchest of politically connected candidates like Hardesty and Gonzalez.

In fact, Vadim was the least politically connected candidate and was doing well until the well-funded Gonzalez entered the race.

I think its unfair to assume that in the new system, the electoral slates will look anything like they do now. I think we’ll get far more grassroots candidates.

IMO I think the Hardesty race is an example of why we need ranked choice voting. I’m guessing for the majority of people who voted for Hardesty and the majority of people who voted for Gonzalez would have picked Vadim as their second choice. With what we have now, around half the population gets nothing and wont have a city councilor who cares about them, or their concerns.

Mapps opposes charter reform because he wants to be mayor and he wants to be a strong mayor. It’s also much much easier for the establishment to buy 7 candidates in first past the post races. Mapps opposes this because it will be impossible to shut out minority political view points from the government, which is what we have now.

There are many ranked choice/tranferable vote systems I would support, just not this one.

Most of the opposition to this system is just nonsense. Pretending like people can’t understand it, or that it will allow extremist into government is just unfounded.

soren
soren
3 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I think the whole purpose of multi-member STV is to allow so-called extremists (e.g. people who are not part of status quo) into government. If this passes I would fully expect to see a few MLs (Paige Kreisman got 33% of the vote in the inner SE) in government. As someone who believes Portland needs more (class) conflict, I would be happy with this scenario.

soren
soren
3 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

How the votes get apportioned mean you still need to be popular across the whole district to get to that threshold.

Many people in Multnomah county only vote for a few top line candidates and leave numerous minor positions blank (as can be seen by the sharp drop off in total votes). STV ballots will be complicated and lengthy (see below for example of australian STV ballot) so “bullet” voting or ranking failure is a likely response by voters that are not particularly engaged in politics.

comment image

There is real world data for this disinterest in ranking. For example, a study in NZ found that as candidate choices increase the percentage of voters who fail to fully rank also increases:

https://www.votingmatters.org.uk/ISSUE21/I21P3.pdf

If bullet votes or ranking failures lead to a significant pool of exhausted votes, it’s easy to see how someone could be selected without popularity across a whole district.

I view STV as preferable to FPTP so don’t take my comment as opposition to this measure. I’m also not registered to vote so my comment comes from a purely intellectual position.

PS: I’m a fan of scoring systems which solve some issues with ranking.

cc_rider
cc_rider
3 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

Multi council member districts will decrease accountability within the district with no guidance for who a citizen should turn to in the district with an issue

This is wild to me. Like really? You have three different people to go to. Like, how do you know who to go to now? At least now you wont have to figure out bureau assignments and who controls the path vs the sidewalk, vs the parking vs the landed owned by whoever.

Even less power for future mayors we elect to steer the ship and get things done.

I’ve never met an elected who I thought made a good leader. Getting elected is a different skill set than running an organization. We need a weak mayor.

soren
soren
3 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

We need a weak mayor and an un-elected strong city manager

You left the bolded part out.

The control of the machinery of government by an un-elected BAU technocrat is the weakest part of this reform package.

I support the STV multi-district aspect of this measure because I think it will be a bit of a political sh*t-show. Portland desperately needs to move away from its staid tradition of a 4-5 vote “consensus”.

Chris I
Chris I
3 months ago

If larger, multi-member districts are less prone to NIMBY tendencies, wouldn’t a completely at-large council be even better? ie: our current approach?

Will
Will
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Sure, if you’re willing to completely forego any geographic representation on the council, which I for one am not.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Will

Why is geographic representation so critical? I think we need people who look out for the city as a whole rather than just their district (or even a narrow constituency within that district in many cases).

Will
Will
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Because historically no one has represented areas like East Portland meaningfully. To take your argument to it’s logical conclusion, should we also be electing the State Legislature and Congress at large?

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Will

C’mon… Hardesty is not that ineffective.

I’ve thought about me statewide question you raise a bit. My conclusion is that the different parts of the state are so radically different politically, geographically, economically, and socially that they probably do merit district representation.

That type of variation simply does not exist in Portland, not even considering East Portland and St John’s.

But if we do want geographic representation, let’s have geographic representation. Four districts just doesn’t cut it.

cc_rider
cc_rider
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

That type of variation simply does not exist in Portland, not even considering East Portland and St John’s.

St. Johns consistently doesn’t get the candidate we vote for, for better or worse. We certainly don’t have representation at the city because city workers don’t live here either.

You think PIR would still exist if Kenton/Portsmouth/St. Johns/Piedmont had representation at the city?

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Maybe you’ll be represented by the west side representatives as one of the district map proposals lays out. Then things will change.

soren
soren
3 months ago

Four districts provides district representation without fostering the NYMBYism

This seems like a facile assumption. I expect that some of those districts would be NIMBY based on PDX demographics.

soren
soren
3 months ago

Evan Mast’s paper suggests that a switch to simple ward-based elections may increase NIMBYism over at large elections. However, he did not examine STV multi-district elections and any extrapolation from his paper to this scenario seems suspect. Nevertheless, a simplistic interpretation of this paper would suggest that switching to four wards from at large might increase NIMBYism.

The other links don’t address NIMBY tendencies at all.

I think it will be very difficult to divide Portland into four wards without having at least one ward where NIMBY tendencies predominate. Given that NIMBYs don’t have much power now this may increase NIMBY representation in government.

soren
soren
3 months ago

You left off the “as seen in LA” part of the sentence. Mast shows that single member districts lead to NIMBYism — like in LA, or like what Mingus Mapps is floating (7-9 districts with a single rep).

I was comparing the current at large system to a 4 ward STV system. My comments did not address the Mapps proposal (which is vaporware) or the LA system.

soren
soren
3 months ago

I’m not disputing the idea that hyper-local wards and NAs promote NIMBYism. I am questioning the idea that you could divide Portland into 4 pieces and not have a well-off NIMBY-leaning district.

PNWPhotoWalks
PNWPhotoWalks
3 months ago

RE: “NAs can definitely be quite NIMBY. I see NAs and the current system as going hand-in-hand. That’s why you see Duffy, Fritz and many of the NA lions battling the STV reform.”

Despite saying I wasn’t going to post on BP until 11/9, and then saying I wasn’t going to engage here to discuss Measure 26-228, I’d like to ask: Are you asserting or suggesting that the TBD districts under the (possible) alternative measure will be aligned with our current 94 Portland NAs? If so, what evidence do you have?

Ref: https://www.portland.gov/civic/myneighborhood/about-neighborhood-system

I might not be clear on what “…the current system” implies.

FWIW, I think the derisive/divisive NIMBY and YIMBY labels, like many other lazy labels, are losing steam. That’s a subject for another time.

soren
soren
3 months ago
Reply to  PNWPhotoWalks

I think the derisive/divisive NIMBY and YIMBY

We could just call them capitalists.

PNWPhotoWalks
PNWPhotoWalks
2 months ago

Thanks for your reply, Lisa. I didn’t mean for my FWIW to seem like I was tone policing. I apologize. Given the context and sources you referenced, I do think it made sense for you to use the same language in your comments. I’m not a professional writer, however, so I don’t know what the current practices (principles, standards) are in journalism today. For this reason, I like reading Therese Bottomly’s Sunday columns when she elaborates on changing language conventions. I find the subject fascinating, which leads me to next.

After working in many industry sectors, I came to learn about different vocabularies used in professional communication. That was frequently a consideration for me when I was doing data modeling definition and design work. For example, whenever I defined an individual, I always made sure I was clear about who the entity was and the role they were going to assume (customer, subscriber, member, patient, citizen, parent, etc.).

I suppose it’s possible NIMBY and YIMBY are formally defined in a dictionary and legitimately used by urban planners in practice. I never had to design a data model or develop a database to support these concepts, but I’d like to see the them instantiated in an application. For now, I can only imagine the relationships that were considered.

Now, back to the topic at hand. When I re-read the City of Portland Civic Life page I linked to and saw the “Portland is divided into seven neighborhood districts” sentence, it dawned on me that the current NA districts could be the alignment I was asking about, not the individual 94 neighborhoods.

soren
soren
2 months ago

Yes, I think that 7=7 is what Mapps is probably thinking.

Mapps, Wheeler, and Ryan voted for RIP2 — the current pinnacle of PDX YIMBY achievement. PBA- and developer-affiliated candidates are quite friendly to Portland’s version of YIMBYism but none of these candidates are friendly to poor people. YIMBYs (interests of real estate) and NIMBYs (homeowners) represent different aspects of wealth/capital and both are perfectly fine with the “invisible hand” pushing poor people out of Portland, ATMO.

City-lover
City-lover
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

I think at-large council has allowed us to focus on city wide issues and helped make Portland the city that it is (was?). That is why I am squarely a NO. I think ward-based politics creates way more NIMBY-ism.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago

Charter form will make housing more affordable? Is there anything this miracle cure will not do?

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m holding out for the “e-bike in every driveway” before I vote yes!
/s

one
3 months ago

https://portlandunitedforchange.com

26-228 is the most important measure of our lifetimes. PLEASE vote yes on this.

City-lover
City-lover
3 months ago
Reply to  one

Nope, not going to.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  one

“26-228 is the most important measure of our lifetimes.”

I’m guessing you are rather young.

PNWPhotoWalks
PNWPhotoWalks
3 months ago

RE: Former BikePortland news editor Michael Andersen, sees a move to smaller, LA-style single-district representation as “the sort of switch proposed by Portland’s Commissioner Mapps.”

For those who might be interested, I thought the Twitter exchanges Michael had with Terry Harris this month were informative.

Cyclops
Cyclops
3 months ago
Reply to  PNWPhotoWalks

Is it possible to link those?

FDUP
FDUP
3 months ago

OMG the level of disinformation exhibited in these comments is just stunning!

Jakob Bernardson
Jakob Bernardson
2 months ago

As a strange old person who has endeavored to eke a living out of theoretical physics, I must say that equating street camping with lack of of housing, and so advocating building more houses, is putting a Band-Aid on a cancer.

The cancer is ever-amplifying poverty.

When I ran for mayor in 2008 there was an event where Sam Adams was seated beside me. One intelligent examiner asked all of us: “What basic ability not linked to politics qualifies you for mayor?”

I was down the line, and as my turn approached Sam nudged me and said he had forgot the question. I told him. My answer: “As a physicist I will give you an analysis of any issue in the most basic and fundamental terms possible. Likely it will not be what you expect, and not what you approve.”

I forget what Sam’s answer was. I got 1111 votes, number base unspecified; binary would be fifteen.

Shortly after Ted Wheeler’s election in 2016 I made a final appearance before Council and told him that our major problems depended from our two native national ideologies: feminism; capitalism; there are no local solutions to problems of such general origins; only national conversions will resolve our sins.

Amen.

Given that no one seems to comprehend just how the voting system being proposed will work, I advance the idea that we should vote for candidates the same way we vote for ballot measures: for or against. Greatest number of positive votes wins. If no one come out on the plus side, throw all out and start over.

Also, current charter requires all expenditures be authorized by Council Ordinance, this to obviate behind-the-back-payments. Does the new proposal have like provision for financial probity?