original art by Katie Chandler
National and state trends are not always local realities. We are no longer a small city. We need to embrace the more complex community we have become. I believe Portland’s approach should be more informed by facts on the ground, more data-driven.
Who is losing jobs? Who is losing their home? What businesses are closing, where are they located, and what's the job loss and economic impact? What kind of help do people believe they need, and where is it needed the most? These are questions I’m already finding answers to.
Specifically, the city should determine, in real-time, what changes are happening. We should use surveys, the newly available rental housing contact data, state employment insurance claim information, applications for business assistance, and more. The city could then compare real-time trends to pre-COVID-19 economic data.
This kind of baseline data is essential to determining where we’re hurting the most, where resources are most needed, where we would get the biggest bang for our buck, how we should prioritize our policies, where we need regulatory help, and more. Such data would also help us get more grants, donations, and state and federal support. Right now, however, this data isn’t be being collected in a useful, holistic, and comprehensive way.
In 2009, we used this data-centered approach to help us pull out of the Great Recession. In the data, we saw very early that the local construction industry was about to come to a dead stop. That meant we had enough time to put a policy in place to help save it, by fast-tracking four years of already funded city construction projects to be built in two years. We tracked housing eviction court orders to focus our increased rent assistance and homelessness services funding.
To use a medical metaphor, we first need to triage and diagnose where the system is currently breaking down because the most visible problems are not always the most serious. Once we have the baseline data, we can treat our problems more effectively, with the resources we have, and more easily find the resources we need.