Felicia Williams, 40, is a business manager for Aronora, a Portland biotech company. Williams is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and downtown neighborhood association president. This is her first campaign for public office.
Below are highlights from her conversation with OPB. You can also listen to the interview using the audio player at the top of this story.
Amelia Templeton: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Felicia Williams: My background has always been really focused on the city. In addition to being in the military and being a historian, I know Portland really well. I’ve spent a lot of time going through city archive records, understanding urban renewal and how social movements shaped the city.
What I have been doing for the last decade is focusing as a neighborhood volunteer. As part of that, it’s problem solving. Any time somebody has a problem in my neighborhood, I work with the appropriate city bureaus to do problem solving. So I focus on city budgets, paying very close attention to that.
Templeton: One of the questions that’s come up in this election is representation. You are a westside candidate and a white woman.
What would you say to people who say you’re undermining the historic opportunity to elect a woman of color, or the opportunity to get more people on the city council who represent the eastern part of the city?
Williams: I’m going to start by pointing out that the neighborhood I live in is 87 percent renter, and it also has the highest density of low-income housing in the city. It’s Old Town/Chinatown and downtown, we have the bulk of the public housing.
I also am going to defer to Mayor Vera Katz, who was my neighbor. When we had this discussion, her answer was that anybody who loves Portland should run, and democracy is always best served by more people running so people have a choice.
In Portland what we need to do — we absolutely have to do this — is change the commission form of government and make it district-wide. They need to be districts. This is going to take a charter change and it’s going to take voters to do that.
Templeton: What’s your position first on no-cause evictions and second on rent control?
Williams: Going back to a larger picture, Beaverton is coming up with a five-year housing plan right now. Portland doesn’t have a five-year housing plan … what we really need to have right now is a broad strategy.
If we’re going to talk about inclusionary zoning, part of the problem with inclusionary zoning is that we never changed the height allowances to compensate for inclusionary zoning, so that undercuts it right there because the projects aren’t going to pencil out and if we’re going to throw rent control on top of that, all that does it is hurts the renter.
Templeton: So it sounds like you believe that rent control, that kind of regulation, doesn’t necessarily solve the problem that it’s intended to solve?
Williams: No, you can look at San Francisco and see it doesn’t solve the problem it was intended to solve.
Templeton: What about no-cause evictions? Do you support ending landlord’s ability to evict tenants without cause?
Williams: I’m not sure that I have a strong position on that one. I do know that I really like when they changed it from 30 days to 90 days advanced notice. Frankly, it sucks when you get your notice that the rent is going to go up, and you only have 30 days and you’re supposed to give 30-day notice. That is the single best piece of legislation that the city has come up with that helps renters.
As far as no-cause evictions, all that is going to do is the landlords are going to put more money into the security deposits. Does it actually help, if you have to pay first month’s, last month’s and a pretty sizable security deposit. Does no-cause evictions actually benefits renters? I’m not convinced that it does.
Templeton: What’s the most important thing you can do to ensure that the city’s growth benefits people of color and low-income people instead of harming them?
Williams: I think the single biggest thing that we can do as a city council member is push for a charter change to make sure that the city is on a two-year budget cycle, so there is no more of the political patronage, or giving money away to whatever nonprofit they want to give it to without having any sort of a competitive process, and to making sure there are priorities about the spending.
Right now, with the one-year budget cycle, the city never gets out of it — there’s a 5 percent cut every year to core services. And then at the end of the year, if there’s a windfall, the commissioner just gets to give it out however they want.
Templeton: What’s the largest organization you’ve ever managed, and how many people do you supervise?
Williams: That’s an interesting question considering that the bureaus are managed by the bureau directors. The commissioners are just responsible for their staff. As the president of the [Neighbors West-Northwest] board, I worked very closely with the executive director, Mark Sieber, and we managed the staff and came up with plans. That’s a much smaller staff.
When I was in the military, I was doing a lot of training with the people I worked with, but that’s not the same. Again, there is a little bit of a misbelief about the city council managing bureaus. They kind of do, but not really. They hire the person who manages the bureau. They’re not actually managing the bureau.
Templeton: What’s the answer to the second half of the question: How many people have you managed in the past?
Williams: Five is the largest team that I’ve been responsible for.