Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Our community is changing. New high-profile employers like Google are bringing high-wage jobs to Portland and a building boom is changing our skyline.

These new developments are good news. But unfortunately, not everyone is benefiting from our economic recovery.

Increasing demand for rental housing has led to skyrocketing rents, and less than 3 percent of rental units are vacant. Combined, these market forces are displacing families, changing the nature of our neighborhoods and forcing us to ask a fundamental question: what kind of community do we want to be?

Much of the growth that we are experiencing today is coming because we have prioritized quality of life and livability. But the uneven nature of our economy, which is exacerbating economic and racial disparities in our community, is threatening that.

We need to act now to ensure that young families can afford to raise their children here and that seniors aren't priced out of the community that they built.

Last month the city of Portland issued a notice to developers and builders called a Notice of Funding Availability offering $61.6 million in new funding for affordable housing development from the city, Multnomah County and Home Forward.

Included in this round of funding is $5 million in flexible county general funds, intended to spur innovation and attract developers who have not previously participated in publicly funded developments. We need new ideas as much as we need new units.

Also included is county property on North Williams Avenue that the county will convey to a developer who will build new affordable housing.

Together with the funds dedicated by the city this is a serious investment in affordability at a critical time. To read more about these investments and learn how you can get involved, visit the city's website.


Deborah Kafoury

New Unity Center providing community behavioral healthcare

Thursday, November 19 Chair Deborah Kafoury and community leaders celebrated the start of construction on the Unity Center for Behavioral Health. The new health center, scheduled to be operational in late 2016, will offer 24/7 access to psychiatric emergency services.

Unity patients will receive immediate psychiatric care in a welcoming setting designed to support, comfort and resolve immediate mental health crisis issues.

The project is a collaborative effort between Adventist Health, Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health and Oregon Health & Science University. The Unity Center will be located on Legacy Health's Holladay Park campus following renovations.

Board acts: County will require licenses to sell tobacco, vaping products

In early November, the Board of County Commissioners approved licensing businesses that sell tobacco and vaping products.

The County plans to begin issuing the annual licenses on July 1, 2016 after a public education campaign. Enforcement is expected to begin in January 2017.

The board moved to license retailers after Multnomah County posted some of the highest rates of illegal sales to minors according to state and federal regulators. Studies have shown licensing sellers helps drive down the illegal sales.

"This is a big day," said Chair Deborah Kafoury. She and other commissioners said they hoped the Legislature would take up the matter for a statewide system. "We have set the stage," she said.

The board acted after holding six public meetings on the subject, including briefings, public hearings, town halls and visits to city councils in East County. Fifty-five people submitted comments online, 36 of which supported licensing and 17 of which opposed. Two people were neutral. Eleven of those commenting asked the board to raise the minimum sales age to 21.

Multnomah County will be posting the nomination process to serve on the rule-making committee shortly. You can read a FAQ here. If you are interested in serving on the Tobacco Retail Licensing Rules Advisory Committee please fill out this webform.

County to donate surplus computers to local nonprofit Free Geek

Free Geek volunteer Charles Dory addresses the Board of Commissioner on Thursday.
Free Geek volunteer Charles Dory addresses the Board of Commissioner on Thursday.

The Board of County Commissioners endorsed a countywide plan to send surplus computers and monitors to the Portland-based nonprofit, Free Geek, which refurbishes used computers, gives them to residents who might not otherwise be able to afford them and sells them to fund their free classes and job training.

"This is really a win-win-win for equity and helps bridge the digital divide in our community," said John Wasiutynski, director of the county's Office of Sustainability. "And Free Geek doesn't just provide a computer. They teach you how to use it."

Free Geek last year distributed more than $1 million worth of refurbished technology, taught more than 400 classes and logged more than 20,000 volunteer hours, according to the nonprofit's federal financial statement.

Chair Kafoury added, "It feels good to give these to an organization that can reuse them, thinking about those families who wouldn't have access without it," she said, "the seniors in our community who might feel isolated, this is way to connect to friends and family and the World Wide Web."

Read full article here.

Board proclaims November Public Arts Month

Isaiah Spriggs recites a poem written by a 15-year-old named Shawn at Thursday's board meeting.
Isaiah Spriggs recites a poem written by a 15-year-old named Shawn at Thursday's board meeting.

Art isn't all Magritte and Monet hanging still and straight in the quiet hall of a museum.

It's not, Chair Kafoury said, "just something pretty at the end of the day. It's the process by which it was created that means as much."

Terrance Scott took the Regional Arts & Culture Council up on an offer to prove the point: put together a mixed-art program for kids facing mandatory minimum sentences.

Scott gathered writers, poets, authors and hip hop artists like himself for weekly workshops with teens at the county's Donald E. Long Juvenile Justice Complex. They were there to instruct, to open those young eyes to alternative lifestyles.

And it worked. He fielded calls from grateful parents, aunts, uncles and even defense attorneys who saw changes in the kids.

Even raw and rough-edged, these kids are "beautiful," says poet Isaiah Spriggs (pictured above).

"These kids are intelligent, brilliant...." he said. "It was really inspiring to go in and recognize that."

With their writing, they show how insightful they can be. Spriggs selected one student's work to read to the board.

Read full article here.