PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There is one contested spot for the Portland City Council on the November ballot. Incumbent Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty faces challenger Rene Gonzalez for a 4-year term.
Hardesty, 65, is seeking her second term on the City Council after years of community and state activism. Gonzalez, 48, is a lawyer and small business owner who founded a political action committee to re-open public school classrooms.
The two candidates faced off in a debate covering the biggest issues facing the city, including homelessness, crime, increasing rent prices and the role of leadership.
Watch the first part of the debate in the video below.
Watch the second part of the debate below.
During the debate, the candidates were asked about Mayor Wheeler’s plan to ban unsanctioned camping in areas around Portland and to build “campuses” to house those facing homelessness.
“The mayor’s proposal, in my mind, is not moving swift enough to deal with the crises on our street. I will be providing some amendments to actually speed up the timeline that the mayor has put in place,” Hardesty stated. “Until we have places for people to go, we cannot ban camping and so what that means is that we have to expedite finding places the city currently owns to house people that are houseless, we have to actually invest with our county partners and use space that they own.”
“I’m amazed that the plan did not call for identifying properties right now that are sitting empty and actually being able to utilize those,” she added. “We have one superpower and it’s called ’eminent domain’ and we could actually repurpose some land now and make it accessible and available for people that are houseless.”
Meanwhile Gonzalez said he’s in “general agreement with the direction the mayor’s going.”
“I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to have to confront those who refuse to take shelter that is offered. But I do want to emphasize there are segments in our unsheltered population that need to be treated differently,” Gonzalez said. “For example, there are segments in our population that have legitimate reasons, concerns for going into low-barrier shelters. For example, mothers with children. There could be compelling reasons why they don’t feel safe in a low-barrier shelter. We need to meet them where they’re at.”
He also stated the need to “disrupt the cycle of criminality in some of our unsanctioned camps.”
The candidates also responded to a viewer question asking if they would cap rents that landlords can charge or allow the free market to determine rent pricing.
In her response, Hardesty said “the free market is creating a crisis that we’re experiencing today. Salaries are not keeping up with the cost of housing, food, gas, electricity, everything.”
The commissioner added “now we are finding out that some people’s rent may go up, up to 50%, because of some language in the law. We must cap rents. We must make sure that we’re not pricing working people out of the city of Portland,” Hardesty explained.”
In his response, Gonzalez said “rent controls often lead to under-investment in multi-family and further housing stock and have long-term detrimental effects on the marketplace for tenants.”
“I would much prefer that we focus on things like rental assistance to help tenants that are going through big transitions in their costs, that we’re supporting them as a society in that avenue, without disrupting the ability of landlords to continue to invest in new housing stock, recover their investment and reinvest that in more housing stock.”
He also noted “there are a number of opportunities for addressing long-term affordability in the region. We need to stay focused on adding the 20,000 units the mayor has outlined and I think that’s going to be more effective long-term.”
In terms of addressing crime and helping those in the city feel safe, Hardesty said “there’s no magic bullet. We’re not going to immediately give people the mental health treatment that they need. What we need to do is give people safe places they can lay their heads at night.”
Hardesty later added “the reality is that gun violence is up, violence is up across the board, domestic violence is way up. We have no plan to address domestic violence, we have no plan to address stranger-to-stranger violence, but we appear to want to shape violence as a one-size-fits-all.” She continued “what I would love to see is a comprehensive plan on how we’re going to get those guns out of the community.”
Gonzalez noted “the reality that we’re facing downtown with more and more businesses moving away, non-stop crime and vandalism that drives away businesses, that drives away visitors.”
“In terms of what we can do with urgency there, in the short-term, upping police patrols in areas we expect shoppers to be,” Gonzalez said — adding the need to ensure safe transit into the city as well as upping patrols near encampments.
“I’m a big fan of reinstituting municipal court that will address low-level crimes including vandalism, car thefts and low-level property crimes,” Gonzalez said. “I do think there is an element of a criminal justice investment, we need adequate police officers and jail space, those are more medium-term investments.”
Gonzalez has picked up a string of high-profile endorsements — including City Commissioner Mingus Mapps — as the race has evolved. Hardesty has the support of many community groups.
Ballots for the November election have already been sent by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.