As two East Portland neighborhood associations elect new leadership this fall, we take a closer look at Portland’s NA system
Editor’s note: The East Portland Community Office is now handling the Lents Neighborhood Association board election, according to the LNA website. For more information on how to vote and have any questions answered, go here. The election dates are corrected and the location for voting was added in the story below. Sabina Urdes, who has since resigned as chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association, said the former board has cooperated with EPNO regarding the upcoming election, countering what some neighbors believe. We reached out to EPNO to see if the former LNA board has been cooperative / met requests in a timely manner, and will update when we hear back. The former board— who sought to dissolve the organization until improvements could be made— gave their recommendations for improving the neighborhood association system here.
A map of Portland’s neighborhoods
Source: City of Portland
By CORY ELIA
Monday, September 27 Tuesday, October 12 at 7 p.m. will be the day that a new board for Lents’ Neighborhood Association is elected— and this could mean changes for one of East Portland’s most underserved neighborhoods.
The election will be held at the Lents Activity Center (8815 SE Woodstock Blvd.).
Lents has a significant proportion of Portland’s unhoused residents residing in its geographical boundaries and it is the testing ground for the Portland Street Response, a program intended to prevent police officers from interacting with individuals experiencing mental health crises.
How to get involved
For those who live in the Lents neighborhood and wish to learn more can visit the LNA’s website here.
The Montavilla Neighborhood Association board elections are on October 11, 2021 and more information can be found here. We reached out to MNA officials to learn more about their election, but received on response.
Parkrose‘s election also appears to be an item to be discussed for their next meeting as seen here.
Village Portland reached out to several other neighborhood associations in East Portland to obtain the date of their elections but was unable to get a response as to when those would be held.
Scant representation for East Portland
With few places that an individual can feel their voice being actually heard, NAs provide for a chance at such by providing a collective voice around place-based representation and advocacy for what is occurring in one’s own neighborhood.
This may change due to the new charter commission process that could affect the way the City government operates by enacting a system of representation based on districts.
Two years ago, the LNA hosted a forum on how districts would better-represent East Portland. The current at-large system has meant most Portland commissioners come from inner Portland: the more-affluent seat of government, media, and business. The districting discussion begins at 25:24 in the video.
Are NAs a flawed system?
However, there are limitations as well and some frustrations with the current neighborhood association system. Village Portland sat down with the current Chair of the Lents Neighborhood Association, Sabina Urdes.
The City’s boundaries for Lents
Source: City of Portland
VP: What is your current role with the LNA and how long have you been with them?
SU: I’m the Chair of the LNA. I’ve been serving in this role since September 2017, so four years.
VP: Why did you start and why should other people get involved with their neighborhood association?
SU: “I got involved because I care about my neighbors and our neighborhood, I’m a good communicator, and I like being of service and learning new things. I learned a lot over the last four years about our local government and elected officials, City bureaus and agencies, and how it all works— or it doesn’t.”
“I’ve met a lot of people and formed relationships and community partnerships that I’m proud of and that have resulted in beneficial events and activities for our community, such as our cleanup on May 15 where housed and unhoused neighbors worked hand in hand to clean and beautify our neighborhood, with support from organizations such as Street Roots, Portland Street Response, and PDX Saints.”
“But we’ve also run into a lot of barriers to getting things done due to the dysfunction at [Office of Community &] Civic Life, which peaked during my four years of service, and it’s why at present, I don’t recommend that anyone run for a position on a neighborhood association board. It is an antiquated format for effecting change, and you can have the best intentions, skills, passions and visions— ultimately, you face an uphill battle to get things done because the neighborhood association system is riddled with an amount of bureaucracy that’s unreasonable to expect of volunteers, and the reality is that a lot of neighbors weaponize the neighborhood association processes to inflict harm on their neighbors.”
Serious change is needed of the current model in Urdes’ opinion:
SU: Until Civic Life is willing to make the necessary changes to help volunteers and the community, which is relatively easy to do for folks who have their level of authority and paychecks, the reality is that it’s simply not a safe platform for some people to engage with, and particularly not for marginalized folks like minorities, houseless neighbors, women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks.
I have a lot of faith in Commissioner [Jo Ann] Hardesty and her staff to implement changes, but it will take time, likely at least a year or two, until we will begin to see meaningful progress at the level where volunteers are involved. Our current board is stepping down for this reason and we will be publishing our recommendations to Civic Life in the days to come, on our neighborhood association website.”
VP: Some people may not be fully clear about what powers a neighborhood association has. Can you provide some insight into exactly what the NAs do? Maybe even some limitations to what they can do?
SU: “Being recognized and endorsed by the City as the officially designated organization for a specific geographic location gives a neighborhood association credibility and the ears of our elected officials.”
According to the Office of Community & Civic Life, ‘”each association is self-governed by citizen-written bylaws that determine boundaries, the election and function of officers, and the frequency of meetings, and neighborhood associations work to reflect the issues and needs of its members.”
SU: “NAs have power to influence land use decisions. We used to also receive an annual allotment from the City that helped pay for some activities or events of service to the community, and we used to receive training and support from Civic Life with the institutional knowledge that they expect volunteers to know and implement. Now this is no longer the case, which has, in a way, diminished the power of neighborhood associations— but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The City seems to move in a direction where there’s room at the table for more voices than just the status quo and everyone is equally important.”
VP: What kind of time commitment does it mean to serve on a NA board?
SU: “There are a minimum of two meetings every month, about two hours minimum each: a board meeting every second Thursday of the month, and a general membership meeting every fourth Tuesday. There is meeting prep, like setting the agenda, and email communication that folks should expect to spend at least one to two hours every month (sometimes considerably more) depending on their role on the board.
For example, the chair spends a considerably higher amount of time compared to everyone else— at times, my hours are as high as an average of 20+ per week. The secretary and treasurer also spend a high amount of time. Committee meetings, special projects, and events, if folks choose to be involved with them, are extra hours as well.”
Another perspective on Portland’s NAs
Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association Co-Chair Richard Dickinson also acknowledged a lack of support from the City government, which he said has limited their ability to have a functioning website.
The City’s boundaries for Powellhurst-Gilbert
Source: City of Portland
He didn’t say when or if they’d be having an election, but in an email gave us a run-down of some of the work they’ve been doing lately— and warmly welcomed neighbors to get involved with the PGNA.
RD: “We do want neighbors who live in the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood to be involved!”
RD: “While we have not been as active during the pandemic as times prior, you will note that we have provided a number of events, including the ‘East Portland Candidate Forum’ and a Townhall around gun violence with Police Chief Charles Lovell. Recordings of these forums can be found on our Facebook page.”
“We have also collaborated with Arte Soleil[a neighborhood community art space] to put on a ‘Reconnecting with Music’ event this past spring, and have engaged a large number of neighbors in a very successful Juneteenth celebration.”
Dickinson said that pre-pandemic, they moved to issue-based meetings rather than monthly ones “that primarily showcased what City bureaus wanted us to hear”, but have had fewer meetings lately.
RD: “We had a well attended Zoom meeting last spring during which a number of new board members were elected, and hope that you will stay tuned for meetings later this fall.”
Learn more about Portland’s 94 recognized neighborhood associations— and find your neighborhood— here.
East Portland neighborhood map
Source: City of Portland
Cory Elia is a journalist, photographer, videographer, documentary director & producer, radio personality & podcaster. His journalistic focus is on politics, protest, and poverty.
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