Stuart Emmons, 64, is an architect and urban designer. This is his second run for a Portland City Council seat.
Emmons spoke with OPB about homelessness, inclusionary zoning and his decision to run.
You can also listen to the interview using the audio player at the top of this story.
Amelia Templeton: Tell me what sets you apart from the other candidates.
Stuart Emmons: I’m a housing expert, and our city needs a housing and planning expert to get us beyond this crisis, this homelessness and affordable housing crisis in our city.
Templeton: Tell me a bit more about what it is that makes you the expert as opposed to any of the others.
Emmons: I started my career designing an SRO [Single Room Occupancy] for 115 homeless people. I designed shelters. I have spent a good part of my career designing and building affordable housing.
Just recently I worked at a start-up looking at how to get unit costs down for homeless, how to take units down from $198,000 to $100,000 with the same quality and have them delivered in a fraction of the time. I’m all about innovation. I’m all about housing more people … I just feel like the city is tied to the status quo, and they need to look more broadly if they want to solve this problem.
Templeton: What would you say to people who say that your candidacy, your decision to run, undermines the effort to get better representation on the city council, since there are women of color in the race already?
Emmons: Most of the work I have done has been with communities of color. And I have seen repeatedly my work stymied at City Hall, both in Gresham and the city of Portland. Many of my projects didn’t go forward, and I felt that maybe it was because they involved the communities of color.
I absolutely support a woman of color, a person of color coming on to City Council. We have a housing and homelessness crisis right now, and we cannot wait. And I am an expert in that. And we have five seats up in the next two elections. … So, I am sure that of those five seats soon we will have our goal of having a woman of color. But right now, we have 1,700 people suffering on our streets. I am the only person with a plan to get them off our streets and get them into safe warm and dry. I think we can have both.
Templeton: You took a while to decide to run. How did you weigh those issues when you were deciding about whether or not to enter the race?
Emmons: It was a hard decision. I walked around downtown, I talked to a lot of people this fall and through the winter. What I saw downtown was amazing. It has gotten worse and worse. I bike on the Springwater Corridor. I saw a woman shoot up heroin in front of me. I talked to people in the Central Eastside living in tents …
And then I crafted the Portland Home Project in response to that. I feel like the city and county and other people associated with homelessness are not doing enough, and I think I have the ideas and I have a network of people who know how to solve this problem in a much more effective way. … People on the street urged me to run. I feel a calling from those people. I am their voice.
Templeton: What’s your position on rent control?
Emmons: I have lived in cities with rent control. I have found that many times that results in people who are very rich and very low income and the middle class getting squeezed out, especially people who are new to the city. In New York, you have people who have been sitting on rent-controlled apartments for 30 years and are paying ridiculously low rents.
I think there are better solutions than rent control.
Templeton: The mayor gets to assign bureaus. What would your pitch to him be?
Emmons: I’m a housing expert. I’ve been doing housing my whole career I’ve been doing planning. I know the zoning code inside and out, far better than anyone who’s been on City Council in recent memory. It makes sense to assign bureaus not for political reasons but for expertise levels. I think what I would bring to the housing equation would be good for the entire City Council and good for our whole city. I would like to do the housing bureau.
Templeton: The mayor also ran on housing. It’s something he assigned to himself. Do you think you could convince him to give it up?
Emmons: I wrote the Portland Home Project that’s on my website. I’ve had people from all over the city say that’s the first time they’ve seen anybody look at the entire homelessness issue and come up with a solution for it. I have solutions. I’ve been on the ground, I’ve banged nails. I started with building houses. I know how to do the numbers, I know how to do pro formas, I know the economics of projects. I know housing really, really well. I would hope that I get housing, but if I don’t I’m still going to advocate for getting all of our homeless off the street.
Templeton: What’s the largest organization that you’ve ever managed and how many people did you oversee?
Emmons: I had an architectural firm. It was medium sized, in 2007-2008, we had 12 employees altogether.