Portland City Council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty answers OPB’s questions

By OPB staff (OPB)
Oct. 20, 2022 12 p.m.

OPB asked the two candidates for Portland City Council to answer questions about their campaigns and the biggest challenges facing Portland. Here are the unedited answers from incumbent Jo Ann Hardesty.

Please provide a brief biography with your relevant experience


I grew up in Baltimore, one of ten children, the daughter of a longshoreman. After graduating high school, I joined the Navy, traveling to places like the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Kenya. During this time, I met countless kind and caring people who helped shape her understanding that people are, at their root, good.

I was a small business owner with a thirty-year history of fighting for Portland’s most underserved communities. I have worked with the Black United Fund, and continued as president of the NAACP Portland Branch, the Albina Ministerial Alliance, and Oregon Action (now Unite Oregon). As a former state representative for North/Northeast Portland and a former Multnomah County senior policy advisor, I hold expertise in crafting legislation and policy.

I am the first Black woman elected to city council and championed the Portland Street Response, an alternative to policing that provides unarmed teams of health professionals to respond to people experiencing a crisis, and led successful ballot measures in 2018 for the Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund and in 2020 for Police Accountability.

My bureau assignments include Portland Fire & Rescue, Portland Bureau of Transportation, and the Office of Community & Civic Life.

Why are you running for City Council?

Public service has been a central part of my life’s work. I know what it feels like to be banging my head against the doors of City Hall, demanding the voices of everyday people be heard. I am running for the City Council because I want to ensure that Portland is a city where all of us have an opportunity to thrive. I want to ensure policies are crafted from the voices of those directly impacted and most often excluded from places of power.

What bureaus do you want to oversee? What experience do you have that makes you believe these departments would be a good fit?

Whether managing a team in the US Navy personnel and civilian or running a community based organization to empower low income people to register to vote or building Portland Street Response from the ground up, I am prepared to tackle anything the Mayor throws at me. My expertise is in hiring and managing the experts and removing barriers so they can do the job. I also take pride in having a strong 360 evaluation process in place with my bureau directors.

What is one piece of legislation you hope to pass if you are in City Hall in 2023?

To update the state law and rules so Portland Street Response becomes eligible for reimbursement from Medicaid.

What do you see as the number one issue facing Portland right now?

Finding solutions for homelessness is my top priority. We need to help get people into safe, clean, and humane housing and shelter. Portland has become a city that is unaffordable for too many people, and wages for working people have not kept up with the cost of living, particularly housing costs. Even before the pandemic, Portlanders were struggling to stay in their homes. The pandemic dramatically worsened that situation, which is why we need to continue our investment in affordable housing and connecting people forced to live on the streets to services.

I’ve sounded the alarm for years. This crisis was decades in the making, and COVID pushed us past the tipping point. Now we have more than 10,000 empty apartments while 5,000 of our neighbors are forced to live on the street. We need to say yes to innovation. We need to recognize we need new models that are innovative and bold, such as converting empty office space downtown into affordable housing. We need humane and creative solutions for people to quickly get clean, dry, and safe places to stay so they aren’t forced to live on sidewalks.

How would you contrast how you will govern as a city commissioner with the style of your opponent?

I will continue to fight for seniors and low-income families, be honest with Portlanders and seek solutions that are community driven and work for the long term. We worked with Mt. Scott-Arleta neighbors to address growing gun violence in their community. Together, we came up with an approach where we added traffic diverters that quieted the area and, in turn, reduced car traffic and gun violence. We need to replicate this kind of innovation across the city.

My opponent believes the Police are the solution to our broken safety net systems. Covid continues to impact so many working people in the city of portland. With the average 1-bedroom leasing for $1600.00 per month and the anticipated 14% rent increase next year that same apartment will rent for $1722. How can our restaurants, hotels, music venues employ people who can’t afford to live in the city they work, play and worship in.

My opponent has been calling for removing houseless people from the streets but has no plan to address the heart of the issue. He has publicly stated we should go to extreme lengths and arrest and incarcerate people. This is unrealistic, costly, and inhumane. Where will these community members go? Sweeps without a plan for how to house them is inhumane, and it doesn’t address the issue of why folks were forced to live on the streets.

Who do you see yourself most closely aligned with politically on council?

I am aligned with everyday Portlanders who need a voice on the city council. And I am willing to work with anyone on the council who seeks community-driven solutions that address the root causes of issues we face as a city. We need solutions that will help solve our problems long term. That is why I championed Portland Street Response that provides trained mental health professionals to support people in a crisis. This also helps reduce the burden on our police so they can focus on solving crime.

The city has been ramping up sweeps of homeless encampments recently and making more public property off limits for camping. Do you think this is good policy?

I know people are scared and concerned about the number of Portlanders forced to live in our neighborhoods outside. I drop by camps across from my apartment regularly to check in on what the people there need. They don’t want to be there either–they want garbage bags, running water, bathrooms, a dry place to sleep and all the basic things people need to survive. We need to move people into safe, clean, and human housing. Forcibly removing people from their tents doesn’t make the issue go away. I continue to support short and long-term solutions like Safe Rest Villages, converting empty apartment buildings to affordable housing, connecting people to services, and investing in affordable housing.

The region’s elected leaders are constantly debating about the right amount of money and attention to direct to homeless shelters versus housing. Do you believe the region has found the right balance? If not, which side of the equation do you think needs more emphasis?

Finding solutions for homelessness is my top priority, and I have sounded the alarm for years. We need all of the above and more. We must innovate and be willing to say yes to all humane options.

1. We need to help get people into safe, clean, and humane long-term housing.

2. We need to recognize we need new models that are innovative and bold, such as converting empty office space downtown into affordable housing.

3. We need to talk with property owners who have nearly three times as many empty apartments as there are people living on the street.

4. We need to provide locations throughout the city for people experiencing houselessness to camp in a safe, self-managed and service rich area as we work to house people both short and long-term.


5. We need humane and creative solutions for people to quickly get clean, dry, and safe places to stay, so they aren’t forced to live on sidewalks.

L.A. voters will decide this November whether hotels should be required to rent vacant rooms to homeless individuals. Would you be supportive of referring a similar measure to voters here?

We must urgently innovate and be willing to say yes to all humane options to get people into safe and clean housing and shelter. Ideally, we would first seek to create partnerships with the hotels and motels as we did during the early days of the pandemic. To be successful in the long-term, I would recommend partnerships rather than forcing hotels to do something they don’t agree with–it won’t be successful otherwise. I have already suggested to the mayor we buy the Hilton Hotel. We (the city) should buy up all the derelict downtown storefronts, land bank it and restrict development to 60% median family income for both commercial and residential. We can then begin to build a center city where all income levels and occupations can always live within the central city.

The charter commission has referred a sweeping measure aimed at reforming Portland’s government structure to the November ballot. Will you be voting yes or no? Why?

The important voices here are the citizens of Portland who served on the Charter Change Commission. The Commission has nothing but Portland’s best interests at heart. The 20-member Commission that was unanimously appointed by all of the City Council voted overwhelmingly to refer a package of structural reforms for the City of Portland to voters this November. This is historic.

What’s being proposed are big changes, and all Portlanders are entitled to their opinions on the measure. My vote is equal and no more important than anyone else. In fact I am mindful about not putting my finger on the scale and undermining the work of the commission. I have said this consistently since the process began. I am still evaluating the final measure myself and look forward to the upcoming public discussion that will occur leading into the election.

I am troubled by recent attempts by elected leaders that go beyond simply expressing opinions. Instead, we are witnessing the undermining of 2 years of exhaustive volunteer work by a diverse committee that was unanimously appointed by all of the Council.

The City of Portland is struggling to recruit members of the public to serve on volunteer committees, which are important to ensure our work is connected to and overseen by the people we represent. What is currently happening with Charter Reform is a good example of why. As a City, we ask volunteers to do a lot of work, and I am mindful not to throw that work in the trash or actively undermine their efforts.

I am the only member of the Portland City Council that has previously served as a volunteer on the last Charter Reform Commission a decade ago, which is why I am particularly alarmed at the lack of respect the Commission has received from some members of Council.

Voters should evaluate the measure on the strength of the policy and vote accordingly. Still, I can assure you that their proposal was thoughtfully created by a group of dedicated volunteers who have performed extensive outreach.

In this time of attacks on our democracy, the last thing we should be doing is undermining citizen-led work. Coming in at the last minute to disrupt this work undermines trust in government and community participation. Our government needs to remain by the people and for the people.

Do you believe city employees should return to in-person work five days a week? If not, how many days do you think employees should be working on site?

I believe the city needs to have a new policy that is created inclusively with workers, equitablly implemented and fair. The work world has radically changed, and most companies are using a hybrid model that I personally support. We are in a climate crisis, and it makes sense for our economy to work differently. Hybrid allows better work life balance, reduces congestion, and air pollution. I’m in favor of incentives for employees who have no choice but to show up. I think we should have a new program in place to remove barriers to working in-person such as child care, senior care, and transportation support.

What do you believe should be done with downtown’s vacant office space?

I think it’s unlikely that many workers will fill these offices in the coming year’s given people’s strong desire for work-life balance that comes from hybrid or work-from-home arrangements. We need to think creatively and innovate with building owners, including looking at converting many into affordable housing. All ideas need to be on the table to create a city where all of us can thrive.

My plan for downtown is to immediately start buying up derelict buildings and put them into a land trust. To limit development to 60% of below of the Median Family Income in order to provide affordable rent that support people who work for local industries to be able to live, work, play and pray downtown. In addition, to be able to support small businesses, creative types, musicians, and other important parts of a vibrant downtown.

If Mayor Wheeler handed you the police bureau tomorrow, what are the changes you would implement immediately?

1. Fill the hundreds of vacant positions. The Mayor and I agree that the Police Chief needs a plan to recruit and train officers more efficiently so we can get these officers into the community to solve crime.

2. Focus on solving crime: Given the vacancies, the officers are stretched. We need to use the team we have more wisely to focus on responding to emergency calls and focusing on solving crimes.

3. Invest in communities most impacted: I am working with Police Chief Lovell to invest in programs to support communities disproportionately dealing with violence.

4. Expand Portland Street Response: We also need to expand Portland Street Response, so the police can focus on getting guns off our streets and address the violence instead of people in crisis

5. Monitor weekly staffing levels at critical times, responses to 911 and work with the chief to re-arrange schedules to address the immediate needs on the street.

6. Attend each roll call initially to be clear on my expectations of professionalism and respect for all community members

Are there steps you would like the city to take to curb the rise in gun violence that are not already underway? What are they?

Gun violence here and across the country is out of control.

- We need to get guns out of our communities, and the number of deaths will drop.

- I am working with Police Chief Lovell to invest in programs to support communities disproportionately dealing with violence.

- We need to leverage the other bureaus like PBOT and the work we did in the Mt. Scott-Arletta neighborhood with traffic diverters.

- We also need to expand Portland Street Response, so the police can focus on getting guns off our streets and address the violence instead of people in crisis.

Excruciatingly hot days in the summer are becoming the norm for Portland. What is one thing you believe the city could do to better prepare for the next inevitable heat wave?

The reason I championed the Clean Energy Fund is that climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color, seniors, low-income households, and people with disabilities. We need to wisely and efficiently leverage the investments Portlanders are making in the Clean Every Fund to ensure the homes that our most vulnerable have air conditioners, trees, insulation, better windows, and whatever is needed, so future heat waves do not threaten our most vulnerable.