The Portland City Council named housing and homelessness as top goals for the upcoming year at a goal-setting workshop Monday night, while also recognizing climate change, sustainability and racial justice as top priorities.
Interim City Manager Danielle West cautioned the Council to limit their goals and be as clear as possible. She told the Council that “we need you to be realistic,” and recommended that committees meet only once per month. They typically meet twice.
“We want to help you achieve your goals, but we won’t be able to if we don’t have the employees or the capacity, which is where we are right now,” West said.
The city still has around 250 vacant positions, including five department head positions currently filled by interim appointments. Many of those vacancies are a result of employee “burnout,” according to West, who said that it would be harder to staff Council committees where goals are discussed.
The council’s goals were named atop existing priorities, which include implementing the six charter amendments voters approved in November, conducting a budget process, hiring a permanent city manager, facilitating the opening of the homeless services center on Riverside Street and engaging with the state legislature.
Mayor Kate Snyder summarized the workshop’s results as meeting the “must-do” list, and committees will focus on housing, homelessness, climate change and sustainability, all while using a lens that prioritizes racial and social justice.
Housing was the major discussion point of the night and the thing most councilors listed as a top priority. Several councilors listed ideas of what housing priorities the committees should look into, like identifying city-owned land that could be developed into market-rate and affordable housing, how to better use the city’s housing trust fund and removing exclusionary zoning.
Councilor Victoria Pelletier singled out racial and social justice as work that “will influence everything else” the Council sets as a goal.
“I want to be enthusiastic about the list, but I know we have people dying because they don’t have housing,” Pelletier said. “So, what are we doing? Are we going to construct policy around this?”