By Belinda Ray
WHIRLWIND. In a word, that’s what the last eight weeks have been. From being sworn in on December 7th to attending the first meeting of the Housing Committee last night (January 27th), my days have been full. As with any new job, there is a sharp learning curve in the early months, but truth be told, I’ve loved every minute of it so far and enjoyed the challenge of taking in so much information in such a short time frame.
One of the highlights of my first two months has been receiving my committee assignments. As part of my Council duties, I will be serving on three committees: Housing, Health and Human Services, and Finance. Each committee has its own set of challenges, as you can imagine.
The Housing Committee, which is new this year, was formed to address the housing quandary Portland finds itself in at present. The two main problems, of course, are that we don’t have enough housing and that the housing we have isn’t affordable for a large segment of the population.
We had our first Housing Committee meeting, as I said, on January 27th, and we heard from many different stakeholders about their views of the problem and how it should be addressed. Of particular interest was Dr. Christopher Herbert, who is the managing director for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University (www.jchs.harvard.edu). Dr. Herbert emphasized that a lack of affordable housing is a problem in cities across the country. He also mentioned that he believes Portland has already taken many crucial steps to address the problem, which is a testament to the excellence of our planning department and, of course, my predecessor, Councilor Donoghue, for whom affordable housing was a major priority. Still, even with the steps that have been taken, there is more to do, and I look forward to working with the members of the Housing Committee, the City Council, and city staff over the next year to continue to make strides in this area.
I haven’t yet had my first Health and Human Services Committee meeting, but the Finance Committee met in early January to go over the city’s most recent audit. I’m in the process of combing through our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to get a better overall feel for the city budget, and the Finance Committee will begin discussing the city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in February. (Suffice it to say I’m learning a lot of acronyms on this committee.) If you’d like to join me in reading the CAFR, you can find a copy of it on the city’s website on the Finance Department page. Maybe we can make it a District One Big Read project (www.neabigread.org).
In terms of challenges for the Finance Committee, I’ll leave you with this: annually, we have about $12 million to spend in our CIP, and to date, the City has received over $50 million in requests for that funding from its various departments. Needless to say, setting priorities for the city’s capital spending for the next five years will be (you guessed it) challenging.