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Nick Fish: Losing housing bureau 'bittersweet'

Nick Fish at the ground breaking for the Bud Clark Commons

Few City Hall pairings have been as joined at the hip as Commissioner Nick Fish and the Portland Housing Bureau. In his tenure on the City Council, Fish has been the architect of the city’s current housing and homeless operations, a defender of the social service safety net and the champion of multiple affordable housing initiatives serving veterans, seniors and families.

But with Mayor Charlie Hales’ recent bureau shuffle, the housing bureau now belongs to Commissioner Dan Saltzman. Fish assumes control of the Bureau of Environmental Services, the Water Bureau and the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

Street Roots spoke to Fish briefly about the change:

“It is bittersweet. We’ve had a great run these five years. I’ve had a chance to work with a stellar team with the bureau and great community partners, probably outperforming during the toughest recession in our lifetime.

I’m very proud of what we accomplished and we did some really important work. Now it’s Dan Saltzman’s term to take the baton and continue to push the environment. The work is not going to get easier. There are spending cuts at the state and federal levels, leaving fewer dollars to invest. And there’s a growing need in the community, and questions: How do we get the region involved in affordable housing? How do we reinvest in affordable housing and how do we continue to remove barriers to Housing Choice? These are big complex issues. I just feel very fortunate to work with so many talented people and be apart of so many success stories. And I will continue to be a champion for affordable housing.”

Do you think you will stay involved with housing and homeless issues and how so?

“I’ll definitely still be involved. Through the Bureau of Environmental Services, we have a slice of the sustainability agenda, including green homes. Through elders in action, I’ll be working on how we make housing both affordable and accessible to older adults. Just as a legislator, one vote out of five on the council, I’ll be making sure housing gets fully funded every year, including the safety net, and continuing to invest TIF (tax increment financing) and other resources in new affordable housing in our community.”

Do you leave feel differently about housing and homelessness issues after these five years?

“I came to this job with a lot of history in the movement, but I learned a ton in this position. And I’ve never worked with so many creative and resourceful people. Having been in the trenches, I have even greater respect for the work that people do.

A lot of it’s not very glamorous, and most people don’t know how hard it is to put together these development deals, it’s almost a miracle. There are few things in life more rewarding than being dedicated to a movement that everybody should have a roof over their head. It’s been a joy and an honor to be a leader in that movement.”