Felicia Williams on Neighborhood Empowerment

“Portland’s neighborhoods have the local knowledge necessary to know if an idea will work."

This post is the fourth in a series based on our interview with Felicia Williams, City Council Candidate for Position 3. More on Felicia here.

Q: What’s your experience with Portland’s neighborhood politics?

Felicia:  I joined the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) Board of Directors in 2010, and have served as president since 2011. I also represent the DNA on the Neighbors West-Northwest (NWNW) Coalition Board of Directors and have spent the last two years as the NWNW Board president.

After being actively engaged with Portland City government for the last decade, I understand how we can improve our government

Q: If elected, what will you do to include neighborhood associations in the initial conversations about plans that affect their neighborhood?

Felicia: In 2011, my first term as DNA president, we asked the City for a loo in our park because we had problems with people peeing everywhere.  However, we also understood that a loo was going to be a shoot-up site. With that in mind, we walked around with Water Bureau and Parks Bureau reps suggesting sites.  There was one block that we specifically asked them to NOT use because it was in front of a daycare. Guess where they put the loo? Now the daycare staff have to pick up needles before they allow the toddlers to play in the park.

Neighborhoods have the local knowledge necessary to know if an idea will work and they are designed to be partners with city bureaus. As a neighborhood volunteer, I will absolutely continue listening to neighborhood volunteers and their input will inform my decision making.

Q: Please discuss the balance of City Council representation for Southeast and North Portland.  Would you support changing the City’s charter to allow for district-based representation?

Felicia: We absolutely need to change our form of government and that requires a City Charter change.  The commission form of government clearly DOES NOT WORK. I think we should have geographic districts based on population and a mayor elected by the entire City.  No more commissioners running bureaus, no more dysfunctional government.

Q:  When the Yellow Line was constructed in North Portland, many people of color and impoverished renters, homeowners and business owners were displaced. What is your plan to not repeat the same mistakes in the SW Corridor?

Felicia: The Yellow Line gentrification was not unique to Portland, but we have learned from the mistakes we made.  -I support the SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy.  Portland is being proactive with the zoning with the Better Housing by Design project, which will change the zoning along the SW Corridor to accommodate higher density residential areas, which preempts the displacement we saw with the Yellow Line.

Q: What would you do to deliver on the long ignored promises of pavement and sidewalks for the miles of unimproved streets in Southeast and East Portland?

Felicia: This one is easy. The City has already collected revenue that can be used for adding sidewalks and paving unpaved streets: System Development Charges (SDCs).  All we have to do is take $4 million of SDCs from the Portland Bureau of Transportation and $4 million of SDCs from the Bureau of Environmental Services (the sewer bureau) and within two years all of the sidewalks and paving would be finished.  That’s all it takes: $16 million, two years, and the political will to do it.

Q: Any Portland stories from the campaign?

Felicia: I had an interesting exchange of emails with a Portland voter who lives in Clackamas County.

He wrote me: “Dear Felicia, I rec’d my voter’s pamphlet yesterday. I note three candidates with messages for Portland City Commissioner Position 3. Yours is not included. Was that your decision or an error in the pamphlet?”

I replied:   “Thank you for contacting me regarding the Voters Pamphlet. Our campaign looked carefully at the costs of of being in the Clackamas County and Washington County Voters Pamphlets ($600) and concluded that is was cheaper and likely more effective to go to each voter in those areas of Portland and personally hand deliver a high quality Voters Pamphlet card  than it would be to pay to be included in the Voters Pamphlet. Not only is this fiscally responsible, but it also comes with the added benefit of being able to meet voters where they are so l can learn more about the challenges of living in the odd twilight zone areas of Portland. For context, there are approximately 160 households in Clackamas County that are Portland voters and 274 households in Washington County. I hope to meet you this weekend!”

He responded, “Thx for your reply. Your assessment makes sense. And is, perhaps, revealing re: your opponents. I won’t be home Saturday. Ducks spring game in Eugene. Sunday we have an event in the AM at Oaks Park …. Stop by and I’ll buy you a registration and a Tee if you want. Big crowd of voters you could meet. Text me and I will let you know where to meet me.”

Felicia Williams on Housing, Homelessness, Compassion and Common Sense

Homelessness is a public health issue

This post is the third in a series based on our interview with Felicia Williams, City Council Candidate for Position 3. More on Felicia here.

Q: What steps will you take for low income families to get affordable housing?

Felicia: My neighborhood was hit hard by the condo conversions.  We lost approximately 500 affordable apartments to condo conversions.  We still haven’t gotten them back.

One of our neighborhood board members unexpectedly lost his job at Portland State at the same time the rents were skyrocketing.  I watched helplessly as the stress caused by housing insecurity took a toll on his physical health. He put his name on the list to get into the Rose Schnitzer Tower (HUD housing) but the waiting list at that time was five years long. Now the waiting list is closed.

Q: What would you do to prevent homelessness and ensure we have stable, healthy and adequate shelter space?

Felicia: Homelessness is a public health issue, but currently we only treat the shelter element and don’t fund the medical, addiction, and mental health issues that trap people in a cycle of homelessness. I’m opposed to the reliance on shelter when we should be prioritizing funding housing.

We need to balance our compassion with common sense.

Low barrier shelters are scary and that’s why people don’t want to go to them –  who wants to live in a six bunk room with a crack addict and a meth addict. I have a friend with cerebral palsy and when faced with going to a shelter, he checked himself into a psych ward rather than going to a shelter.

We need to prioritize housing over shelters – breaking the cycle of homelessness will require us to treat the underlying conditions that cause homelessness. Bottom line: Prioritize housing and public health.

Q: How can we create more affordable housing?

Felicia: Housing is a basic human need. We can create more affordable housing by utilizing a combination of 99-year ground leases, land swaps, and by developing currently underutilized city-owned land. Removing the cost of land will spur development and put the property back on the tax rolls, allowing the city to direct this revenue into a range of housing options at affordable prices. If there is any chance of creating more affordable housing in Portland, we need to start making City owned property available for housing, while at the same time retaining ownership of the land as a long-term public asset.

Q: What’s your position on Inclusionary Zoning?

Felicia: When the Community Alliance of Tenants contacted us to see if we would support the effort to overturn the Inclusionary Zoning ban at the state legislature, we agreed to consider it. Our neighborhood is 87% renter and we understood that any new buildings built under an IZ program would likely be built in our neighborhood; we could get our 500 affordable units back.  At the time, our board had a developer, several public housing residents, renters, and a couple of homeowners on it. In order to get a unanimous vote on the IZ letter, we agreed not to fight height in the Central City West Quadrant Plan. We understood that if Inclusionary Zoning had any chance of working, the buildings would need to go taller in order to pencil out.  For us, more affordable housing was the most important greater good.

Q: What can City Council do better to address the housing crisis?

Felicia: I want Inclusionary zoning to work, but if it’s going to happen, we need City Council to stop destabilizing the development market with ad hoc decisions, we need a formal housing strategy, and we need to make sure we are generating enough revenue to develop more subsidized housing in the 0 to 75% Median Family Income range.

Felicia Williams on How PDX Can Survive the “Big One.”

The best way to survive an earthquake

This post is the first in a series based on our interview with Felicia Willams, City Council Candidate for Position 3. More on Felicia here.

Q: We’re all a little freaked out by thoughts of “The Big One.” Tell us more about your campaign plank on “Emergency Preparedness.”

Felicia: We’ve all read the New Yorker article about the “Big One,” and have witnessed what happened with failed federal relief in Puerto Rico. When a natural disaster strikes Portland, we can’t necessarily rely on the federal government for a rapid and adequate response, so we need to get serious about preparing our city.

Q: Agreed … and we secretly suspect Trump would be glad to leave the Left Coast hanging. (joke) Seriously, what would you do to get us better prepared to survive an earthquake?

Felicia: The best way to survive an earthquake is to prepare for it.

Q: That sounds good, but do you have any specifics?

Felicia: Yes, I do. Here’s my five point plan that I will support as a Commissioner:

  1. Install an earthquake early warning system attached to both civil defense sirens and personal smart devices. This would give people up to two minutes to get to safety.
  2. Train additional Neighborhood Emergency Team Members (NETs) throughout our City and making sure we have NET teams in every single Portland neighborhood and high density apartment building.
  3. Develop Emergency Operations Plans for all of our K-12 schools.
  4. Make sure every family has Personal Action Plan.
  5. Test the early warning system and Personal Actions Plans annually.

Q: We’ve heard you did disaster work in the Air Force?

Felicia:  Yes, my concerns for emergency preparedness grow out of my work in Command and Control while serving in the U.S. Air Force.  I know what it’s like to directly coordinate high level responses to fires, gas leaks, plane crashes, tornadoes, and mass casualty events.  When a disaster strikes, it will be critical to have calm, experienced leadership guiding our response, and this is exactly what I will provide Portland.

Q: Sounds like you’ve been in challenging situations before.

Felicia: Each is unique, but we can take action so Portlanders can work together to get through a disaster. We can utilize the public-private partnerships that already exist throughout Portland to create neighborhood and community safety plans so we can survive a catastrophic emergency.