Office of Equity will aim to help the poor; fairer contracts

Office of Equity will aim to help the poor; fairer contracts

PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland's proposed Office of Equity would help the city's poorer neighborhoods and improve how the city contracts with companies for services and hires people. The effort would ensure those processes are fair to minority groups, according to its supporters Wednesday.

The city is considering taking the current $600,000 Office of Human Relations and adding $500,000 to create one Office of Equity.

The office will consist of three people, a director and two employees who will look at how to even the playing field for minorities and people with disabilities.

It will be "a city bureau with staff, or will have staff once we've hired a director, which is going to look systemically – starting with how does the city do business and how can we be more fair and more equitable in providing city services," said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz.
 
The three people in the office will try to do things like get streetlights fixed more quickly in poor neighborhoods, add sidewalks and get more grocery stores into those neighborhoods, so poor people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Not everyone enjoys the riches of our city," Fritz said.

Midge Purcell, with the Urban League of Portland, said she believes the city can begin by making sure its own house is in order by looking at its own workforce diversity and its contracts.

"(The city can look at) who is awarded city contracts and whether those who are awarded city contracts have a diverse hiring policy," she said.

The Urban League's report on the state of black Oregon is a key piece of data behind the idea of an equity office. It shows African Americans in Portland are worse off now than they were 17 years ago when it comes to poverty, education and jobs.

"The bar needs to be raised a lot higher, given the level of disparities that we've documented," Purcell said.

The City Council chambers were packed Wednesday with people of color and disabilities who voiced their opinions about the Office of Equity. It’s still up to a Council vote whether it goes into effect.