"In the world through the eyes of Jesus, the business community has as much responsibility to look after the poor as churches, or synagogues, or mosques," said Reverend Chuck Cooper, from the United Methodist Church in Gresham, delivering a eulogy for Portland's affordable housing at city hall this afternoon. "If you do not care for the poor, your own soul cannot be saved. And that is not just the individual soul, but the soul of a city, the soul of a state."
"Everybody that lived in these homes had to leave, and had to go somewhere," said Cooper. "And so we do not only mourn these buildings, but we mourn the people that had to leave them. We mourn the soul of a city that allows this to happen."
The memorial was organized by nonprofit Soapbox Under the Bridge—to draw attention to the decline in affordable housing here in Portland. As we wrote last month, affordable housing for people in Portland's downtown core is down 23 percent over the last three years. Soapbox organizer Olivia Johnson introduced the memorial, saying Soapbox wants to stay focused on solutions and on "directing attention to the real need." Organizer Patrick Nolen read off the names of all the apartments which have gone, including the Roosevelt Plaza, which once held 56 rooms of affordable housing, and is now inhabited by yuppies like me. Activist and mandolin player Barry Joe Stull played some somber music and then ripped up the various "grave" placards, to symbolize the destruction of the homes.
City Commissioner Nick Fish was there. "We're in the top five in unemployment, in hunger, and in homelessness, and these are statistics with a terrible human face, and an unfolding human tragedy in our community. At a time when our country was doing well, we continued to lose affordable housing."
"With the help of advocates like you, we've achieved some important victories this year which I want to acknowledge," he said. "We've launched a new housing bureau that will be more accountable, and my commitment is we'll put more dollars where they are needed to house people who are the poorest in our community. At the same time we've increased funding for the poorest in our community. Most bureaus took a five percent cut, we got a 30% increase in our portion of the budget. We simply would not have been successful in making our case during the last budget cycle if advocates like you had not been coming to city council. We finally secured funding for the resource access center."
"These are significant achievements but I believe we can and must do more. We adopted a 30 percent set-aside for affordable housing, but the money is not always being spent where it is most needed," he said.
Fish also added that "protecting the fundamental constitutional rights of our citizens" was important to him with a new ordinance regulating sidewalks. "Let me make clear, our goal is to make sure that our sidewalks are accessible to all, and that the rights, including the constitutional rights of our citizens, are protected," he said. "Please count me a continuing ally in the struggle to make sure that everybody has a place to call home."