Lee Moore was recently named chair of the Housing Authority of Portland’s Board of Commissioners, the agency providing affordable and government-owned housing for residents of Multnomah County, including section 8 vouchers.
Moore’s parents came to Oregon to work in the shipyards during World War II. During that time he lived in government housing in Vanport, a community between Portland and Vancouver that was destroyed by a flood.
He spoke to the Portland Observer by phone at his day job as Clackamas River Water general manager
Generally speaking what sort of goals or initiatives are you going to pursue as chair?
I’ve kind of laid out some that I would like to see. One is that because poverty knows no borders, I’m thinking that the Housing Authority really needs to look at our mission to ensure that we are providing services to all of Multnomah County and the support services as needed for the region. And one of the reasons for that is as we begin to look at the price of housing and the ability of many of our clients to secure housing, particularly in the section 8 area, they need to go where they can get the best value. And if we’re limited to being an exclusive Portland agency, then we’re not able to serve them as we should be. So I think that’s one thing. I think that’s also reflected in our name. We need to take a hard look at when we say we are servicing all of the county but we call our selves the “Housing Authority of Portland.” Is that a limiting factor in a lot of partners’ minds? We have reason to believe because we are in the middle of strategic planning and we’ve talked with a lot our constituents that that is a limiting factor. So a second thing we’re looking at is the possibility of a name change.
One of the other things I’d like to look at is right now our administrative offices are in downtown Portland. It seems to me that part of our strategic planning effort need to consider moving our services to where are clients are. Maybe we need to be out in the community where there is easier access for our clients than being downtown.
Another thing I think we ought to be looking at is we’ve been very successful in encouraging diversity. We have one of the most diverse boards of any government agency in the state, if not the most.
But we also need t make sure that diversity passes through inside of our organization, so that we’re practicing what we preach, and we’re making sure that at all levels of the organization we reflect the larger communities we serve. And as a subcomponent of that we really need to make sure that we’re looking at diversity in total: not just race, ethnicity, gender, or age but also diversity in terms of how we deal with the contracting community and how we deal with other entities out there. So we need to make sure we’re multilingual, so to speak, in terms of being able to identify with all those publics, as well as receiving input from those publics. So I think diversity in the broader context and the specific context is extremely important.
As resources become more limited at the federal level we need to looking for alternative ways to maximize our asset base to the point of looking at ways we can use our assets to help generate revenue to help offset the cost of providing the services we need to be providing because I think that we shouldn’t, and can’t, be looking to the federal government to solve our problems.
A lot of these things we’re going to have to do locally. And looking at some of these alternative methods, rather than waiting for a crisis, will serve us well. So those are just a few of the things that I’m looking at. Obviously these are just a couple things I’m looking at, and obviously you don’t want to do this in a way that takes away from the success that we’ve had today.
A couple weeks ago some housing activists were down in San Francisco protesting the Obama administration for not doing enough for housing. Also Obama announced the idea of a spending freeze. Could you talk a little bit more about not relying so much on the federal government and what sort of initiatives you’d like to see?
Obviously we’re going to have to continue because a lot of our programs are administered by HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.) But I think we have to look at alternative revenue streams. For example, in my travels to a lot of European countries one of the things you begin to see are partnerships between the housing providers and private industry. An example that I saw was libraries, obviously it’s not a housing example, but maybe it is, on the main level of a building and apartments above, or other kinds of commercial developments at the street level with apartments above. In many cases the revenue generated from the commercial development helps offset some of the cost for low-income housing.
We have done, and been very successful at HAP, with some partnering with private industry where I think on Morris and Burnside we have one tower that is conventional market-based housing and the other is low-income, and one helps offset the other. So I think we need to be doing more of that. Also, by doing it that way we’re not creating social-economic ghettos in the sense that we put low-income in one place, so that the entire community shares in that responsibility.
What are some ways that you can incorporate public housing into the community so that it’s not segregated of ghettoized?
We look at New Columbia as really one of the models not only locally, but nationally. It’s not obvious as you drive through that development who is low-income and who is a homeowner. So essentially, it is a mixed-use community where we put in low-income along with people who actually own the property. I think that obviously that is a large geographic area that made it much easier to do that, but I think that could be a model for other developments in the city and the county.
Last year the central city housing inventory came out. It said that we lost affordable housing units to the tune of 22 percent in the central city, but we saw an increase in 12 percent in some of the higher income units. What sort of conclusions did you draw from that?
Well, I don’t know if I drew a conclusion from it, but I did have some observations about it, and that is I think we have to be extremely careful that we don’t become the San Francisco of the north. Meaning, that as the cost of living and the cost of housing increases that what happens is you price lower-income families out of the city so that they have to move to the suburbs, then upper-income empty-nesters then move into the central city. And essentially what happens is that the suburbs of today become the ghettos of the future. That’s something we need to guard against and keep our finger on that pulse, and that’s one of the things I love about Portland and would like to see maintained. If we look at our schools and our communities they are blended and they need to stay that way.
Talk a little bit more about the partnerships you’d like to see with private enterprise and other government entities like the Housing Bureau and the Portland Development Commission.
Well, the city has just created a new blended agency headed by Margaret Van Fleet under Commissioner Nick Fish where the city and PDC have essentially blended those two agencies. The challenge for us now is what is the role of the city? What’s the role of PDC? And what’s the role of the Housing Authority of Portland?
I think that because of the limited resources, it’s very difficult for us all to be doing the same thing. So we’re in the process of working through these issues. I know that Commissioner Fish is very active in this, which is one of the reasons for the merger between the two agencies. Maybe the city is the policy making arm, maybe PDC is the financing arm, and maybe the housing authority is the housing development service provider and partial financing arm. I don’t know, but that’s something we need to be exploring further. There was a report that was completed last year that was the first to look at look at how we should be managing housing throughout the region. So we need to pay more attention to that, and have more discussion and about that in next six to twelve months so we’ll have a clear definition of who needs to be doing what.
How do you see the economy and the state of the housing market affecting your work?
Portland, unlike many other communities, is in transition right now. We have pretty high unemployment. One of the things is to see where the jobs are. Hopefully we can begin to attract more companies into the city through other initiatives that both the city, the county, and the state have. And then our job is to make sure that there is appropriate housing in the right places so that people who need those jobs can take advantage of it.