Mayor Kate Snyder delivers the annual State of the City address in council chambers on Monday. Noting the divisiveness that marks the city’s current political climate, she urged city residents “to work together without labels and without attacking each other.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Portland is making progress on recovering from COVID-19, housing and homelessness, but the city is divided and the stakes are high as the November election approaches, the mayor said Monday.

“The fact is – this is the real state of our city,” Mayor Kate Snyder said during the annual State of the City address. “We are polarized. We are divided.”

The city charter requires the mayor to provide the annual address to articulate and further the city’s vision and goals. Monday’s address, which was delivered in-person in Council Chambers as well as on Zoom, was the first State of the City address Snyder has delivered in-person. The address was held virtually the last two years due to the pandemic.

In the half-hour speech, she touched on several areas of progress, including recovery from COVID-19 with many Portlanders now vaccinated, people eating inside at restaurants again and expanded technology such as hybrid meetings.

The city also has made investments to support residents and businesses over the last year, including the selection of a company to deploy electric vehicle charging stations on city property and the launch of a new bike-share program.

There have been 345 new housing units approved this year, and over 200 more are currently in review, Snyder said, and there are currently 1,475 dwellings under construction, of which 465 are dedicated affordable housing. Some of the most notable projects underway include the Herald Square project next to City Hall, which will include a 152-room hotel and 300 condo units, and Dougherty Commons, a 120-unit project in Libbytown with a mix of cooperative, market rate and affordable housing.

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Portland is also making progress on its new homeless services center in Riverton, which Snyder said is expected to open in March and will expand the city’s capacity for housing the homeless from 300 to 354 beds.

The city is not without challenges. Portland is sheltering about three times its shelter capacity using overflow space in hotels, more affordable housing is desperately needed and there’s been a recent uptick in violent crime.

There are about 255 employee vacancies, out of a staff of 1,400, including the city manager, police chief, and the directors of public works and housing and economic development.

“While there’s a ton of work still happening, city staff are eager, if not desperate for some stability,” Snyder said.

Mayor Kate Snyder delivers the annual State of the City address in council chambers Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Snyder said the city is working on addressing challenges, but Portland is divided as the November election approaches. Voters are considering 13 referendums on Nov. 8, including Question 2, which would enhance the authority of the mayor and increase the size of the council.

“What I have seen happen for some time now is that there’s deep and persistent messaging that one camp or side of an issue is good, and one is bad,” Snyder said.

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She said the political climate has become challenging, and personal attacks are commonplace. “The complex issues that face this city are just that – complex,” Snyder said. “And their solutions require all of us to work together without labels and without attacking each other.”

Snyder said the stakes in the election are high, and it’s important for people to understand that if Question 2 is approved, the new executive mayor and expanded 12-member council would be sworn in in December 2023 and only after that would a chief administrator – the top administrative employee under the new plan – be hired.

Snyder, who is not seeking re-election and opposes Question 2, said she would like to see the current council hire a permanent city manager and for the city to be in a position to also hire for the other leadership positions in order to create more stability.

She also laid out policy priorities for the council for the coming year, including resettlement coordination for asylum seekers; homelessness and its causes; land use that elevates the city’s comprehensive plan and focuses on dense housing; and work with the state to address General Assistance, which requires municipalities to help people in need with housing, food and other necessities.

The mayor encouraged all residents to cast their ballots, either via an absentee ballot, early in-person voting or in-person on Election Day. “Please prioritize your voice so that as we emerge from Election Day the path forward for this great city has been chosen by as many registered voters as possible,” Snyder said.

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