The multiple failures of our governments’ social engineering experiment at New Columbia were exposed at a hastily called public meeting by mayor Adams on June 24, 2010. About 250 citizens, politicos, bureaucrats and police officers gathered to speak to each other about the recent shootings, one fatal, in New Columbia which is located in but not an integrated part of North Portland’s Portsmouth neighborhood. 

New Columbia was sold as a government housing project that by design would fully incorporate into the geographical and political landscape of the Portsmouth neighborhood and North Portland. This has never happened. Considerable testimony gave the lie to this marketing fantasy.

Many New Columbia residents mentioned their community. However, that community had nothing to do with Portsmouth nor North Portland. There was no connection whatsoever. Neither Portsmouth nor North Portland were even mentioned until I spoke late in the conversation. In fact, it became evident that there are two communities within New Columbia, home owners and renters, each with their own organization. 

Home owners were the only group to set up a neighborhood watch. They spoke of their unhappiness with the public safety situation and how they, except for the economic recession, would have sold their houses and moved. Renters complained that whenever they tried to organize a community meeting no one came.

There was no visible presence of any board member from the Portsmouth neighborhood association. Despite the fact that New Columbia is in their districts and that the Housing Authority of Portland is a creature of the state, legislators ostensibly representing North Portland, Tina Kotek and Chip Shields, both supporting the discredited and abhorrent public policy of UNLIMITED neighborhood (Portsmouth) concentration of Public Housing, were no shows. However, Richard Ellmyer was there because the North Portland Business Association alerted him. No one from the mayor’s office, nor ONI, nor PNA, nor HAP informed me of this meeting despite my very well known connection and commitment to this issue. There was no sign of the press. Perhaps they weren’t invited either.

HAP Chair, Lee Moore, was perfunctorily introduced then summarily dismissed by mayor Adams as a sideline player at best and did not speak. HAP director, Steve Rudman, at $212,000 per year, the highest paid public employee not only in the room but in all public jurisdictions within Multnomah county, was accorded dominant status over his boss, Lee Moore, by mayor Adams. Rudman mouthed bureaucratic banalities to the wary crowd. The irrelevance of the appointed citizen seat warmers on the HAP board could not have been more clearly demonstrated. 

Some Relevant History

Oregon’s first deadly drive-by shooting was in Columbia Villa.

Don Clark, former HAP director, was the first to recognize the necessity of having an armed presence at Columbia Villa to keep the peace and protect the innocent.

New Columbia was designed without consultation with Portland Police.

Crime statistics for the Portsmouth neighborhood plummeted when Columbia Villa closed. Those numbers rose dramatically alongside the rise in population at New Columbia.

Despite a threefold increase in population density and more than doubling the number of public housing clients, no officers were assigned to New Columbia until it became evident that former HAP chief Don Clark’s perception that it was necessary to have an armed presence to keep peace at Oregon’s largest Public Housing compound was still true. In fact, it became obvious and necessary to add a third officer to maintain public safety. That third sworn officer mysteriously and unceremoniously disappeared with the closing of North Precinct in St. Johns.

All of this was predictable and predicted.

In Summary

The political establishment saw an opportunity to grab a heap of free federal money to rebuild Columbia Villa. They threw in a few bucks from their jurisdictions into the pot then turned the whole thing over to HAP. The unfortunate illness and death of HAP director Denny West ended a history of leadership of that organization by talented and experienced politicos like Don Clark and Denny West. They were replaced by the consummate bureaucrat, Steve Rudman.

The mostly ignorant, unvetted, appointed do-gooders on HAP’s board were no match for Rudman, a seasoned and savvy government employee whose compensation approaches a quarter of a million dollars annually. With a compliant, rubber stamp board and without interference, interest and oversight from the Portland and Gresham city councils and the Multnomah county commission and protection from Portland’s mayors from Katz to Adams, who have the singular power to both nominate and dismiss HAP’s board, Steve Rudman reigns supreme. Steve Rudman is essentially held accountable by no one. No voter. No taxpayer. No elected official. And yet Rudman makes public policy and directs the spending of more than $80,000,000 of the public’s money every year. Is it any wonder that Steve Rudman doesn’t want anyone to have access to HAP’s Public Housing Statistical Data which might jeopardize his very lucrative job. 

You can no more expect to concentrate an overwhelming number of at-risk, undereducated, socially stressed, poverty pressed HAP clients and expect peaceful coexistence then you can expect to turn the medieval tribal society of Afghanistan and its heroin based economy into a modern American style secular democracy. Both efforts are futile and full of self-delusional fantasy.

At the end of the day ALL of the responsibility for HAP’s failures rests on the mayor of Portland, Sam Adams. It is the one aspect of his job in which he has totally and deliberately failed. When Adams was mayor-elect he told Nick Fish that he would be assigned the Housing Bureau. As part of the deal Nick was told to bring Adams HAP’s public housing statistical data. Fish, who helped hide HAP Public Housing Statistical Data as a HAP commissioner now denies access to Portland's Housing Bureau data (this will be a future story), blew him off and Adams never seemed to notice. If it were not that Adams recently chose to manage the Portland Police Bureau it is most unlikely that he would have been involved in the shootings drama at New Columbia. Remember, the mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, denies that PUBLIC Housing exists in our city as well as the responsibility and accountability of government that goes with it.

What Needs To Be Done

The first and foremost priority is Public Safety in New Columbia, the Portsmouth neighborhood and North Portland. New Columbia is a government Public Housing Project which is the product and responsibility of the Housing Authority of Portland, the cities of Gresham and Portland and Multnomah County. ALL of them need to contribute to a public safety fund which would permanently add at least two additional full time sworn, uniformed and armed Portland police officers to New Columbia. No private security nor volunteers - real cops.

Unless and until the mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, publicly admits that PUBLIC HOUSING = MEANS TEST + GOVERNMENT SUBSIDY + RENTAL AGREEMENT and that PUBLIC HOUSING is under the direct and complete control of the government and that PUBLIC HOUSING does exist in Portland and Multnomah county, the ongoing endemic public safety issue at New Columbia will never be resolved.

The Housing Authority of Portland MUST publish its Public Housing Statistical Data on its website. Taxpayers, voters, elected officials and candidates for office have not only a right but a need to know how many and what kind of clients HAP/Steve Rudman is placing in what locations. Placing 500 females over 50 years old with incomes in the 60 to 80% median family income range will produce a dramatically different effect on a neighborhood’s schools, businesses and public safety than placing 500 male teenagers from 0 to 30% MFI in the same neighborhood.

New Columbia must be declared a separate neighborhood. The boundaries of North Portland neighborhoods would need to be redrawn accordingly.

A shooting or murder in New Columbia casts a negative impression on all of North Portland including its schools, real estate, businesses and quality of life. Those who have made a long term investment as well as neighborhood and business groups in North Portland must come to grips with this reality and discuss among themselves what unified political action might be taken to deal with the problem.

The Portland and Gresham city councils, the Multnomah county commission and the Housing Authority of Portland must all support a public policy of Equitable Distribution of Public Housing. Equitable meaning both quantity and kind.

The Portland city council must agree to the repeated requests by the North Portland Business Association, the Portsmouth Residents Action Committee and the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area Advisory Committee to stop all new funding for public housing in the Portsmouth neighborhood and limit public housing in all North Portland neighborhoods to 15%. [Portsmouth has 30% and growing.]

The Portland and Gresham city councils as well as the Multnomah county commission must reverse their opposition to the Obama administrations new Public Housing proposal known as PETRA, the Preservation, Enhancement, and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act of 2010*, whose worthy aim is to decentralize Public Housing - which, of course, CANNOT be done without accurate, complete and timely Public Housing Statistical Data.

The Portland city council, the Gresham city council and the Multnomah county commission should recognize Public Housing as a regional issue and instruct their government relations staffs to lobby the Oregon legislature to regionalize the Housing Authorities of Portland, Clackamas and Washington counties under the administration of the Metro regional government.

Until Metro takes responsibility for public housing in the region mayor Adams should acknowledge his singular statutory authority over HAP and take the Housing Bureau under his control. Portland's mayor MUST take his current rightful ownership of the Public Housing agenda and make Public Housing policy and spending transparent and accountable.

Until Metro takes responsibility for public housing in the region the mayor of Portland and the Portland city council MUST PUBLICLY VET all current and future appointees to the HAP board to determine, at the very least, if they support Equitable Distribution of Public Housing or UNLIMITED neighborhood concentration of public housing.

U.S. senators Wyden and Merkley, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, gubernatorial candidates Kitzhaber and Dudley, Metro Chair candidates Bob Stacey and Tom Hughes, Multnomah county candidates for the district with the majority of HAP clients, Loretta Smith and Karol Collymore, and last but not least North Portland legislators Chip Shields and Tina Kotek, MUST come out of the shadows and address this issue. I invite all of these folks and any elected official connected with this issue to have a public or private conversation/debate.

Government leaders do a great disservice to their constituents and undermine the democratic process when they misuse language to deliberately obfuscate and confuse the real matter at hand. Public Housing exists. So-called affordable housing exists. But they are NOT the same. I support and have always supported public housing and affordable housing. It is way past time for the educated adult responsible citizens in our community to demand the facts and face the issue head on.