Multnomah County Comissioner Loretta Smith first suggested police officers move into abandoned Portland houses earlier this month, at the first candidate forum for Portland's general election. Smith, who is running against JoAnn Hardesty to replace outgoing Comissioner Dan Saltzman, specifically suggested this as an incentive for the many Portland police officers who live outside of the city limits. She said that city council could essentially use the so-called "zombie houses" —long-abandoned homes foreclosed upon by the city—as bait.
The idea seemed half-baked at the time—maybe something Smith was just trying out with the audience early in the race. Suggesting out-of-town police officers be incentivized to take over abandoned homes during the midst of a major homelessness crises seemed too tone deaf to be an actual campaign platform.
And yet, two weeks after announcing this plan at the Crystal Ballroom forum, Smith has issued a formal list of housing policy proposals that relies heavily on the giving-houses-to-law-enforcement model.
"Smith proposes that the city buy these houses, rehab them and then sell them to teachers, firefighters and police officers who can’t afford to live and work in Portland," reads a press release sent by Smith's campaign this afternoon. "Home buyers would receive low-interest loans that would remain in place as long as they are employed in one of the designated fields within the city."
Including public school teachers in this plan was a nice touch—but isn't enough to hide the fact that Smith believes out-of-town law enforcement should be prioritized for housing over actual Portland residents. Based on her earlier explanation of this policy, it also comes with the assumption that the only reason police officers don't live in Portland is because of the city's high cost of living. While it's surely a piece of the equation—there's no evidence pointing to this being the case.
According to the Portland Police Bureau's recruitment site, an entry-level annual salary at PPB is more than $64,000—which is $8,000 more than Portland's average median income for a one-person household in 2018. Meanwhile, the most recent census data shows that around 18 percent of Portland residents are living below the federal poverty line (or, for an individual, making less than $12,000 a year).
In the same press release, Smith reminds voters that she still really wants to turn the abandoned Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter. Just to be clear: Portland's homeless are allowed a prison-like shelter while law enforcement are offered discounts on actual homes?
"My proposals give the city more options to expand the number of affordable housing units and speed up the process," Smith said in the press statement.
We're not holding our breath.