A few years ago, a group of regional leaders set equity as a policy goal for Metro. "The benefits and burdens of growth and change will be shared equally," said the policy, one of the regional government's "six desired outcomes" for greater Portland.
But how is that measured? How do you gauge how those benefits and burdens are being distributed?
Long before the Metro Council adopted a Strategic Plan to Advance Equity, Diversity and Inclusion last month, leaders asked a group of community-based organizations to prepare an Equity Baseline Report, which showed where the region was starting from as it works to improve outcomes for all residents, particularly people of color.
How are we doing? And what kinds of efforts now underway could help? Below is an overview of each of the indicators in the Equity Baseline Report, along with quotes from a recent Metro survey related to its equity efforts.
“We've got Black mothers signed up for Section 8 who are not able to get housing within our County, they have to spend a year in Salem and Oregon City… way out somewhere, or another city… where they have to live for a year before they can apply to come back here.”
Greater Portland has an affordable housing shortage, and it disproportionately impacts people of color. Where people live affects how they can get to a job, what kind of health care is available to them, how long it takes to get around and what kind of education their children get. Access to home ownership is a key to financial security that can last for generations – or a locked door that can keep generations in flux.
Metro is working to assess the region's affordable housing inventory, and is giving grants to local governments to expand equitable housing options and investing in affordable units through its Transit-Oriented Development Program.
Learn about Metro's equitable housing grants
"My partner is a salesperson at a retail location in Washington Square. His work/life balance is already suffering because of variable work hours, but the often unreliable and inconsistent bus schedule exacerbates this. Sometimes he can get home on one bus in 20 minutes, but in the evenings and on weekends when he often has shifts, it may take him over an hour to get home -- to travel a distance that would be a mere 10 minute drive. This affects many of the people who need the transit system the most for their daily work commutes, and is even worse if they are trying to reliably travel between jobs, as many people take on work from more than one employer in order to make a living wage."
Housing and transportation are tied hand-in-hand. In greater Portland, places with better transportation access have higher property values. And in Portland, like most cities, people of color are less likely to have a car and instead depend on buses for getting around.
Meanwhile, new transportation investments like MAX lines have helped spike property values in certain parts of greater Portland, but government has been slow to intervene to combat displacement in those areas.
Metro can influence transportation decisions in greater Portland. It guides development of the Regional Transportation Plan, leads planning efforts for new transit lines and allocates federal transportation dollars to fund things like sidewalks, trails and roadway improvements around the region.
Learn about equity in Metro's transportation planning
"I teach in a high poverty school. These children are severely disadvantaged by their lack experience. Many of them spend all of their time at their apartments. They rarely get out and almost never travel or have experiences beyond the local area. It is also rare for them to visit the zoo, museums, theater, music and other cultural events."
People of color often have less access to arts and culture, both in schools and at major performance venues and museums. And history and art museums have long struggled to advance ethnic, religious or cultural diversity in their staffing and exhibits, let alone get people of color to attend.
Well, there are formal channels: How often do Metro's performing arts venues feature diverse events? Are there direct efforts to welcome people of color to attend? And then there are informal actions: Does a planning open house, for example, have culturally specific food? Does a park offer space for respectful observation of a variety of religions?
Read about Black Violin's performance at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
"Diverse experiences and views contribute toward more enduring and resilient solutions to our region's problems. Diversity is strength. People-of-color and lower-income communities experience a disproportionate burden of such problems as pollution, lack of access to transportation, and so on. It's unfair and untenable to allow much of our population to fail, while the rich get richer."
Earlier this year, a glass factory in an upper-middle-class, predominately white inner Southeast Portland came under scrutiny for its toxic emissions.
Would the reaction have been the same if the factory had been at 162nd and Division instead of 25th and Powell?
Metro's equity report says the whole region deserves clean land, air and water. That can happen, the report says, if Metro continues to preserve its natural areas inventory, helps remediate polluted brownfields around greater Portland, and advances its Climate Smart strategy to reduce tailpipe emissions in the region.
Learn about a recent EPA grant to help clean up polluted brownfields in Clackamas County
"It's my job to make sure fewer people get sick and die prematurely. Disproportionate impacts from transportation on low income households and communities of color make my job harder because the people who are most at risk have the fewest opportunities for physical activity, the highest exposure to traffic pollution, and the fewest protections against crashes."
"An individual's ZIP code is a better predictor of their health than their genetic code," Metro's Equity Baseline Report says. Race, income, education, housing quality, pedestrian safety, pollution and transit access are just some of the factors that play into how geography affects health.
By taking steps such as cleaning up diesel emissions from garbage and recycling trucks, promoting opportunities for walking and biking, and connecting people to its regional parks, the report says Metro can help improve health in the region.
"I am a person of color, I'm educated, have a degree, and a beautiful family, and I'm in active member in my community. I've been here for five years, and I love it here, I want to call Portland home but one of the hardest parts of being here was finding a job. I have a very ethnic name and I shortened it and changed it on my cover letters and resumes and notice that the response I got back was greater when my name did not sound so ethnic, this is always been an issue but it is very concerning and saddening. I would love to see it addressed, equal opportunity for employment for people of color. Where I come from I've always seen people that look like me in professional jobs and doing good in their community and that really shaped who I am in the way I choose to live my life. I want those same things for my kids and I'm worried that I won't find it here."
An economically diverse region is a healthy region. That's one of the key reasons Metro engaged in a process to address equity in the first place.
Bad news for greater Portland: Economic diversity is getting worse, not better. The cost of living is increasing but incomes, particularly among communities of color, aren't going up.
Metro is working to address employment inequities within its agency, taking steps such as ending the practice of asking job applicants about prior convictions. And it's stepped up its efforts to support contracting opportunities for minority, women-owned and emerging small businesses.
Find out about Metro's MWESB contracting efforts
"It's been shown that having access to good grocery stores and health providers assists folks in staying healthy. When neighborhoods have to travel far to get good food and health care, it hurts all of us."
Farmers markets. Organic produce. Heirloom vegetables. The comforts of home.
They're all part of a healthy diet, and they're all hard to find in lower-income communities.
Several grocery stores have closed in greater Portland's lower-income neighborhoods, making it hard to get to healthy food and in some cases, leaving convenience stores – with higher-priced, heavily-processed items – as the only option for buying food.
Diabetes rates in greater Portland increase in neighborhoods with lower incomes.
How can Metro be involved? Mostly through land use and transportation decision-making, encouraging conditions that grocers find favorable so that they can increase access to lower-income communities, and by protecting farmland, so there's plenty of room around our region for locally-grown produce.
Learn about the Quamash Prairie and native harvests
"I have been privileged to reap the benefits of my immigrant parents' hard work and a quality public education. I know I was lucky, and wish everyone were so blessed."
The correlation of educational attainment and long-term economic success is well-documented. On the flip side, a lack of educational attainment can affect a family for generations.
Any given school may get the same amount of taxpayer money per student, but other variables like private donations and parental involvement can vary drastically in greater Portland. Students who go to lower-income schools can experience compounding stress from things like poverty, hunger, unreliable transportation and inconsistent discipline.
And racial inequities continue all the way through college and graduate education – putting further downward pressure on average incomes for people of color.
Metro doesn't run schools, but it does work through its natural areas, the Oregon Zoo and performing arts programs to increase education and engagement opportunities for communities of color.
Metro's UNO program celebrates its 15th year
Meaningful civic engagement
"Access to housing, transportation, and parks are outcomes. Access to employment and decision making are probably important means to those ends."
Marginalized communities, particularly immigrant, refugee, and low-income communities, do not play on an even social and political field, according to Metro's Equity Baseline Report, with more connected groups in advocating for their own interests. This limits their access in terms of health outcomes, education, housing, employment, transportation, and other opportunities, the report says.
What's the solution? Metro's report suggests grassroots community capacity development – teaching underrepresented communities how to get involved in the process while at the same time, focusing on helping decision-makers better understand their constituencies, particularly underrepresented communities. The very development of the equity baseline analysis and strategy reflected that.
And, Metro can continue to work through its advisory committees, stakeholder committees and other groups to set an example for cities and counties to follow in terms of meaningful engagement.
"Disparity leads to hardship, discontent, violence and crime. Equality creates a realistic expectation for life styles, contentment and more sense of community. We are not all crabs in one pot pulling one another into the boiling water in an effort to escape."
Metro isn't a crime-and-justice agency, but disparities in arrests and sentencing have a great impact on our region, the Equity Baseline Report says.
"To achieve Economic Prosperity, our region must recognize patterns of policing and sentencing, and the economic barriers created by restriction on the hiring of former inmates," the report says. "Past mistakes should not, but often do, prevent a person from re-entering the work force."
Additionally, the report says, new research shows a correlation between pollution and crime rates. Metro's pollution reduction efforts could help break that cycle. And by working to reduce barriers to employment for people who have been convicted of a crime, Metro hopes to help provide opportunities to leave those convictions in the past.
Learn about Metro banning "the box"