This Week's Curator: Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann
Lori Stegmann is a Multnomah County Commissioner representing East County. She was elected to the County board in 2016; prior to that she served 6 years on the Gresham City Council. She is a small business owner and has been for 25 years. She has two daughters and is a caretaker for her elderly mother.
Commissioner Stegmann came to this country when she was 6 months old. She was part of the famous Holt airlift that brought 3000 babies from South Korea to the United States to be adopted into families here. She became a US citizen at the age of 4 and attended public school in East County. She grew up in the communities that she now represents as a County Commissioner.
Because she represents different cities, school districts and service districts Commissioner Stegmann knows each one is unique and tries to make sure she is building strong partnerships across those boundaries. That means she is often spending time out in her district during the week, in the evenings, and most weekends.
Fun fact: Commissioner Stegmann has recently become a bike rider. As you know, the infrastructure as you move east is lacking and there are intermittent sidewalks and fewer greenways or designated bike lanes. Previously, she had been too nervous about riding along with traffic but engaged the County’s Office of Sustainability, to host a policy bike ride this spring that helped her feel more comfortable navigating by bike. The high cost and/or lack of transportation is one more barrier that many of her constituents are burdened with. And by providing low cost transportation options and infrastructure that improve our air quality and health is a win-win.
Commissioner Stegmann loves celebrating the diversity of our communities in Multnomah County. Whether it’s in our schools, at community events and meetings, or visiting our County service sites, she knows she can count on seeing different languages and cultures represented and truly loves that part of East Portland and East County. Because of her personal story of coming to this country and because of the diverse fabric of our Multnomah County communities, it is incredibly important to her to speak out against harmful and inhumane immigration policies and practices that seek to destabilize our families and communities. She is proud of our State sanctuary status and the stance Multnomah County has taken against recent federal policies. This is a hard fight and she resolves to do everything she can to help people understand the contributions and importance of everyone in our communities, regardless of immigration status.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What are the ups and downs of it?
District 4, the district that I represent as a Multnomah County Commissioner, starts at 148th in East Portland and goes further east through the city line into Gresham, Wood Village, Fairview, Troutdale and the unincorporated communities of Corbett, Bridal Veil, Latourell, Warrendale, Dodson and Bonneville. It also includes Multnomah Falls and part of the Gorge up to the Hood River County line. I live in the city of Gresham in the Powell Valley Neighborhood, and own a small business there.
I love the diversity of our communities and the strong sense of togetherness you can find in my district. We have tireless advocates and community builders, dedicated staff in schools and agencies; and vibrant cultural organizations.
I am reminded constantly of our regional history of disinvestment and disjointed policies across jurisdictions. I know these disproportionately impact our communities in East Portland and East County and we must continue to fight to increase investments in infrastructure and services to meet the concentrated need and combat impacts of marginalization. Many communities have been displaced or are newcomers to our region
What are your favorite East Portland things to do and places to go?
Oh this list is constantly growing and changing, there is such a vibrant and diverse community in East Portland! Here are a few of my favorites but I look forward to sharing even more this week as the EastPDX curator:
Asian Health and Service Center - this new and exciting asset in the Lents neighborhood is providing communities culturally specific healthcare and a place to gather. I had the honor of helping to cut the ribbon at their grand opening in August and am so excited to see this resource in our community!
Powell Butte - nestled in our urban environment, I love stopping by and enjoying a wonderful hike. This is a nice place to decompress and witness nature, right in our own backyard.
Immigrant Walk and NE Sunday Parkways - this annual event is such an empowering experience to spend the day with immigrant and refugee communities, allies and advocates, all fighting to increase awareness of issues both global and right here in our Country.
Rosewood Initiative - they are literally bridging the divide between Portland and Gresham, building community and providing a physical place to gather. There you can find resources, and folks who are ready to work together and make change happen.
The Springwater Corridor - as a newer bike rider, I have enjoyed using the Springwater Corridor, which is a county wide bike and pedestrian trail. Being able to hop on and off at different points in the County is an amazing asset to our community, and I love using it.
What do you think people don’t know about East Portland that they should know?
If you think you know East Portland, I would say please get out here and explore. There are hidden gems, a deep history and tons of potential. I see so much community spirit and creativity!
There are huge changes happening in East Portland. The JADE district and APANO Multicultural Space, new development in the Lents town center, expanded transit on 162nd, exciting work of the Purpose Built Community effort at the Rosewood Initiative. With these changes to the face of our communities I feel we need to stay mindful of the unintended impacts and how we can support our communities to grow and thrive.
What do you think would be most helpful for people in East Portland?
Multnomah County is the most populous in the State of Oregon. Although within our county, there is a stark line of inequity. If you were to divide Multnomah County into two along 82nd Ave. and create two new states, West MultCo would be the 2nd most wealthy state in the country and East MultCo would be the 2nd poorest.
I am working with our East County legislators to address this inequity in funding formulas for services and investments east of 82nd Ave. This will help to support our communities with increased services and resources, providing the stability our most vulnerable communities need to thrive.
How do you think your Portland matches up with the Portland you’ve seen in media?
All you have to do is travel East on Burnside, Division or Powell to see the urban scene change drastically. We see fewer brewpubs, coffee shops and boutique stores and more vacant storefronts, fast food restaurants and parking lots. Some think of Portland as a city with tree lined streets and idyllic, walkable neighborhoods where bikes outnumber cars. In actuality, we have an opportunity in East Portland to make development and revitalization choices that bring change but not the displacement we’ve seen in N/NE Portland. We need to retrofit our infrastructure, build more walkable and bikeable routes along our massive arterials, and catch up with the assets that exist closer in. But I don’t want East Portland to lose the beautiful diversity and culture that makes it so vibrant. This duality and delicate balance must always be at the forefront of our minds as we witness Portland (and our region) expanding and density increases.
What keeps you up at night worrying?
We are living in an extreme housing crisis. There are over 4,000 homeless community members in Multnomah County and on any given night, there are over 1,500 people sleeping on our streets. Multnomah County has consistently invested in shelters, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing because we know this needs many pronged solutions. I recently completed a multi-day tour of every shelter Multnomah County contributes to so I could see the full breadth of what we’re able to offer our communities; it was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to any public official who is tasked with making decisions about housing and homelessness. But it goes beyond shelters, we need permanent supportive housing, diversity of housing stock and investments in growth that do not continue to marginalize and displace our neighbors.
I have dedicated my work at Multnomah County to removing barriers for communities transitioning out of poverty. We are the largest Safety Net system and it is our responsibility to provider services to the most vulnerable communities across our county. But this also means thinking about prevention and creating pathways toward stability for our residents. My team has been working with local organizations to bring more lived experience into decision making and increase funding for programs for justice involved populations as well as those who need access to living wage jobs. We cannot build a thriving region without meeting people where they’re at and helping to support them.
I am reminded of an excerpt from President Roosevelt’s January 1944 State of the Union address, “It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”
And late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone who said, “We all do better when we all do better.”
What gives you hope?
Organizations like the Rosewood Initiative who have embraced a community model called “A Purpose Built Community”. This model is based on quality mixed-income housing, a cradle to college education pipeline, and community wellness programs that include high quality infrastructure and economic stability.
The people of East County also give me great hope. Never have I met a more committed, caring group of people. We often hear the expectation that somehow government should solve many of the social issues we face today. But I know it takes us all, working from different points of leverage, to make a difference and East Portland and East County communities know how to roll up their sleeves to make things happen.
Lastly, I’m so proud to be part of an incredible County Commission. While we may not always agree on everything, I can tell you that every one of your Commissioners shares the same values and hope for our communities. And we are always asking how can we serve the greater good in our region, that gives me hope in our troubling times and politics.
Why did you agree to participate in this project?
The issues facing East Portland and East County are challenging. Gentrification and displacement, lack of housing affordability, harmful immigration policies, poor infrastructure, and economic disinvestment are all issues that must be addressed. It is important that East Portland/East County have a seat at the table and a voice in the room.
Because of the multiple jurisdictions in this area it is sometimes referred to as “no man’s land”. With the exception of East Portland Action Plan, I do not know of one single policy table that represents these areas as a whole. And it’s challenging to work across borders and boundaries so any time I have the opportunity to talk about and promote East Portland I am excited to do so.