|Over the last several months, the Alliance public affairs team has been tackling some of our key policy priorities outlined in our 2023 Policy Agenda. A particular focus, at both the city and state levels, has been on addressing our region’s housing and homelessness crisis. We also supported federal funding to make improvements to TriMet’s Gateway Transit Center in East Portland. Also at the state level, the Alliance supported bills to address the rise in retail theft and help immigrants with advanced degrees get licensed in Oregon.
Portland City Council adopts ordinance to incentivize conversion of commercial buildings to housing; PBA supports office conversion legislation and permitting reform in Salem
On March 15, PBA’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Jon Isaacs, testified before Portland City Council in support of ordinances to reduce the cost of converting commercial buildings to housing. Ordinance 212 establishes city policy to waive service development charges if building owners choose to convert their commercial building to housing. Ordinance 213 modernizes seismic requirements to make it more affordable for developers while ensuring the safety of residents in the event of an earthquake. In his testimony, Jon noted that while these ordinances are a good first step, large scale office conversions are extremely expensive and will require more policy changes to ensure they are a good economic investment. Jon urged the council to act to adopt stronger incentives to develop new affordable and middle housing, slash timelines and steps for permits to build new housing, as well as eliminate unnecessary policy-based requirements for developers. The council approved the ordinance 5-0.
On February 28, the Alliance also testified before the Oregon House Committee on Housing and Homelessness in support of House Bill 2984, that would allow conversion of buildings from commercial use to workforce housing. In his testimony, Jon Isaacs noted that the state needs to do more if they truly want to incentivize conversions, which are extremely expensive. The Alliance is advocating for a statewide tax credit and a revolving loan fund to truly incentivize commercial conversions. Isaacs also testified in support of HB 3569 on March 23rd, which will require cities to process housing development applications within six months. If this bill is adopted it will have immediate positive impacts on housing development in Portland. Developers regularly site the slow and cumbersome City of Portland permitting system as one of the biggest cost and time barriers to housing development in the city.
PBA submits letter to Congressman Blumenauer in support of federal funding for the TriMet Gateway Transit Center
Also on March 15, Portland Business Alliance sent a letter to Congressman Earl Blumenaur in support of federal funding for TriMet’s Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center. TriMet is a critical service for Portland residents, workers, and a very important part of our regional economy. The Gateway Transit Center is one of the busiest in the TriMet system and is in desperate need of an update to ensure that it can support the future needs of Portland residents, workers, and businesses. Funding would be used to retrofit the Gateway Transit Center with space necessary to accommodate new articulated zero-emission buses and make other necessary improvements to the facility. These upgrades will ensure that Gateway Transit Center remains a central facility for Portland’s eastside as well as improve the safety, reliability, and comfort for hundreds of transit operators and hundreds of thousands of transit riders for decades to come.
PBA supports legislation to address rise in organized retail theft
On March 8, the Alliance submitted testimony to the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee urging members to support Senate Bills 318 and 340. These bills will provide law enforcement critical tools and funding to deter organized retail theft and ensure retailers that Oregon is a safe and profitable state to conduct businesses and support their employees. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, losses from organized retail crime have risen over 50% in the last five years. This national rise in organized retail theft has unfortunately hit Portland businesses hard over the past few years. A recent survey of Downtown Portland Businesses conducted by Downtown Portland Clean & Safe found 85% of businesses have been impacted by crimes such as theft and break-ins in the past year. Addressing these issues is one of the Alliances’ top 2023 policy priorities.
Partners in Diversity and PBA testify in support of bill to help immigrants with advanced degrees get licensed in Oregon
On February 28, Partners in Diversity Executive Director Mari Watanabe testified in support of Senate Bill 849. The bill requires professional licensing boards to provide culturally responsive training to specified staff members, publish guidance on pathways to professional authorization for internationally educated individuals and waive requirement for English proficiency examination for specified internationally educated individuals. Mari stressed the importance for establishing a grant program to provide career guidance and support services to internationally educated residents of Oregon who are seeking to enter the Oregon workforce in an eligible profession. She referred to a 2017 study by the Alliance and Partners in Diversity, commissioned in partnership with the Migration Policy Institute, to illustrate the cost to Oregon's economy in unrealized tax revenue and economic opportunity for immigrant and refugee communities by not having pathways to work in their field of expertise. The data showed that Oregon was home to 55,000 highly skilled immigrants with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Low-skilled employment resulted in immigrant college graduates forgoing $272.5 million in annual earnings. As a result, Oregon experienced $27.7 million in lost state and local tax revenue.