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Portland mayor changes who will oversee housing and homelessness in 2023

Mayor Ted Wheeler said that he's kicking off a new overhaul process by grouping city bureaus into five service areas.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland city council started the new year on a lighter note Wednesday morning. Newest commissioner Rene Gonzalez was welcomed by a round of applause as he took the seat formerly occupied by Jo Ann Hardesty. Mayor Ted Wheeler congratulated Commissioner Dan Ryan as he stepped into the role of council president.

Mayor Wheeler also made changes to bureau assignments, which will change who is responsible for some of the city’s most pressing issues — including housing and homelessness.

Under Portland’s current form of government, the mayor assigns city bureaus to each commissioner. This year, Wheeler said he's starting a new overhaul process by grouping city bureaus into five service areas: administration, community and economic development, public works, public safety, and culture and livability.

Wheeler said this marks an important step toward creating the basis for how the future city administrator will lead in 2025, when Portland's voter-approved charter reform has taken effect.

Mayor Wheeler will now be responsible for the city's role in the Joint Office of Homeless Services, which is the cooperatively-run program headed by Multnomah County that's come under recent scrutiny for how it's addressed the homeless crisis. Commissioner Dan Ryan, who championed the development of Safe Rest Villages — a long and arduous process that remains ongoing — will no longer be responsible for housing. That responsibility now falls to Commissioner Carmen Rubio.

KGW reporter Blair Best caught up with Rubio and Ryan at city hall Wednesday morning.

“I feel really grateful for the mayor's trust in me doing this really important work during this really critical time. Housing is clearly the priority right now on every Portlander’s mind,” Commissioner Rubio said.

Best asked Rubio what she believes needs to change in the city’s response to homelessness and what her plans are moving forward.

“Well, I think that we have new leadership everywhere — there's leadership that has changed at the local, state and national level — and right now it's all-hands-on-deck,” Rubio said.

Commissioner Dan Ryan is now in charge of culture and livability and said he is confident Rubio will move the city’s response to homelessness forward. Ryan will still manage the Safe Rest Villages and plans to open more in 2023.

“I also am very proud of getting some land banking into the budget last year so we can have some pathways to home ownership,” Ryan said.

The city's newest commissioner, Rene Gonzalez, will handle the public safety service area. This includes Portland Fire & Rescue, whose union endorsed him in the election. He got his first hands-on experience of the job when he joined Portland Fire at a large church fire Tuesday night in Southwest. He'll also handle BOEC, Portland's emergency dispatch provider.

Though Gonzalez's portfolio is public safety, the Portland Police Bureau will remain under Mayor Ted Wheeler.

The city's new form of government, shedding the dated commission-style system, will start in two years. In the meantime, Portland City Council still faces major challenges in the form of homelessness and public safety.

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