Sweeping Victory for Housing Agenda in Portland, Oregon, Midterms

Gov. Kate Brown (D) announces her victory on Nov. 6. Courtesy KGW/NewsChannel 8

Gov. Kate Brown (D) announces her victory on Nov. 6. Courtesy KGW/NewsChannel 8

The midterm elections were good news for advancing the fight against gentrification and displacement in Portland and the state of Oregon. The state saw a record turnout of 1.87 million voters (67.8 percent) that yielded a clean sweep for the pro-housing agenda.

Voters unilaterally pushed forward the most impressive cluster of candidates and ballot measures I've seen in my 20 years of covering this issue.

As we discussed in our podcast, the midterms offered a slate of must-win candidates and ballot measures crucial for the battle against housing displacement. Never has an array of candidates and measures interlocked so much on an agenda. And the voters approved every one of them.

All of our endorsements won, making the Priced Out Podcast the most influential political entity in the STATE! YES! The POWER!!!! Okay, no...we just got lucky.

Here's the rundown:

VICTORY: Kate Brown, Governor. Brown was a must-win. If the state legislature was going to take up long-standing thorns in the side of housing advocates—the state ban on rent control and protections on no-cause evictions—a Democrat needed to be governor. Without Brown at Mahonia Hall, nothing would get done. If Republican challenger Knute Buehler had won, he would have been a golden child of the national GOP and under enormous pressure to be a veto machine (just as John Kitzhaber was when the GOP controlled the legislature). With supermajorities in both houses, the ordinarily timid and undisciplined Dems should have enough firepower to push through meaningful housing reforms in the legislature (after three years of hard pushing by activists). But ONLY if advocates and voters continue to put maximum pressure on their representatives. There is no finish line.

VICTORY: Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland City Council. If Portland is going to experiment with rent stabilization, the state legislature will have to pass enabling legislation. Then, the city council needs at least three votes to pass a local measure. A reliable second vote came in when voters made Hardesty the first African American city councilor in Portland history. Hardesty has spoken favorably of the idea of rent stabilization, unlike her opponent, who had taken a significant amount of money from developers. Hardesty is the ally of housing firebrand Chloe Eudaly. Together they could realistically charm or twist arms (whatever works) enough to get a third vote for rent stabilization and other housing reforms.

VICTORY: Measure 102, Constitutional Amendment for Affordable Housing. In a triumph of messaging by advocates, voters approved a nuanced amendment to the Oregon Constitution. The passage of M102 enables local governments to build more subsidized housing by combining public dollars and private investments. More units can be created and preserved with fewer tax dollars. Changes to the Oregon Constitution are notoriously difficult to pass because they require the support of such diverse urban and rural communities. This measure was difficult because the changes were so small and technical, but activists pulled it off in a triumph of campaigning, and sadly, an objective lesson in how broadly felt the housing crisis is.

VICTORY: Measure 26-199, Metro Housing Bond. Voters in the tri-county area approved a regional $652.8 million affordable housing bond. Because M102 passed, the impact of this bond could double. The money can now be leveraged to create anywhere from 2,400 to 4,000 units of housing. That's a wide range, but as we all know, housing prices are going up, and that makes it more expensive to build affordable housing too.

Advocates and residents should be proud of all these accomplishments. It shows that if people push hard enough the levers of power move over time. It’s what we always talk about in discussions after a screening of Priced Out.

For the last several years, Portland has been a national example of what not to do in a housing crisis. Its history of housing discrimination has been a black eye on Portland’s progressive self-image. But this election should help inspire other communities fighting gentrification. And help the region reclaim its place as an innovator and grassroots fighter for good causes.

Keep it up!

~ Cornelius Swart
Producer, Priced Out