Washington County Commissioner candidate Nafisa Fai has expertise in public health and a plan to advocate for low income Oregonians


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Air date: 
Wed, 03/04/2020 - 5:30pm
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Washington County Commission Seat One has a challenger this year, Nafisa Fai. Fai is an expert in the field of public health, and she helped to found the Pan African Festival in Oregon. She's also a small business owner on the Portland Business Journal's 40 Under 40 list.

Her platform rests on affordable housing, addressing traffic congestion and bringing prosperity home to all residents of Washington County. Fai herself is a refugee from Somalia, who has ben living in Oregon for 22 years, and built her family and business in Aloha.

KBOO's Althea Billings spoke with Nafisa about her candidacy, her vision for Washington County and how she intends to advocate for low-income people.

More information available at NafisaforWashingtonCounty.com.

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Audio Transcript

Althea Billings  0:00  
Today we are speaking with Nafisa Fai, a candidate for Washington County Commissioner District One. Nafisa is an expert in the field of public health, she helped to found the Pan African festival in Oregon. She's also a small business owner on the Portland business Journal's 40 Under 40, I could go on, but Nafisa, thank you for being here with us.

Nafisa Fai  0:18  
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Althea Billings  0:19  
So first, I want to know what inspired you to run for office?

Nafisa Fai  0:23  
Good question. I think I would like to say one day I woke up and I wanted to run but it's been a long journey to run for office. And I've been really passionate about impacting and making change for our community and doing great things. And I think this is the next natural evolution to really be at the decision making at the, you know, the tables where budgets are moved around and community improvements are talked about and really centering the lived experience, especially of people who are in poverty and low income because poverty is part of my lived experience.

Althea Billings  1:05  
Right. And so you've listed one of your priorities as tackling the affordable housing crisis. What do you think the existing conversation around housing affordability is missing?

Nafisa Fai  1:16  
You know, there's a lot of great conversations and great plans in progress around tackling affordable housing. I think for me, you know, somebody who lived in low-income housing and now has her own house and owns her own house, I think the pathway to home ownership conversation is missing. And I think that's one way for people to move out of poverty and generate wealth. And that's one thing I really want to center on around affordable housing. It's important to have, you know, and also figure out ways we can really level the playing field for everyone.

Althea Billings  1:54  
And do you have examples of, I guess, where we're lacking that right now?

Nafisa Fai  1:59  
Where we lack in pathway to homeownership?

Althea Billings  2:01  

Nafisa Fai  2:02  
You know, I think a lot of the conversation about affordable housing, it's centered on the, you know, building houses and creating more houses in- and really sort of focused on supply and demand conversation. But really what I'm interested in really focusing on how do we uplift and lift people out of poverty, and how do we create that pathway to homeownership, so that people, you know- yes, we need subsidizing housing, and- but how do we make sure people are generating wealth and they can really buy their own houses? And you know, and- that conversation starts with having a realistic expectations about how much houses cost, because, you know, if you're making minimum wage, you really can't afford half a million dollar houses. So if we are focusing on people owning their own house, then we're really recentering those voices and those people and making sure that the houses are affordable, truly affordable, because people can't you know, may- if you're making minimum wage, you might be able to afford a $200,000 house. But if we're talking half a million dollar houses, then it's really not realistic.

Althea Billings  3:19  
Right. And, you know, as you mentioned, it's complex, but also so tied to generating wealth for generations to come. 

Nafisa Fai  3:27  
Mhmm, absolutely. Yeah. And, you know, I'm, I'm excited, like, every time we get us, you know, our house, we had somebody to ask us to sell our house and excited to see the wealth, you know, how much value our house has, and we've only owned it for, you know, few years, less than 10 years or so. So I think that's really exciting part. If we tell those stories, you know, this is could be your pathway out of poverty.

Althea Billings  3:57  
So from a public policy perspective, How do you create that path to homeownership?

Nafisa Fai  4:02  
Making houses affordable, making sure that you know when we're building houses and structures going [into] development are up and running. I think it's important to make sure that they're going to be affordable to people who can buy them.

Althea Billings  4:18  
Factoring that into the conversation. So told me about how you would want to address traffic congestion in Washington County?

Nafisa Fai  4:26  
Yeah. You know, one of the biggest impact[s] around traffic congestion is working people are spending too much time in traffic. I want to work so people can spend less time on the road and more time with their families In creating transportation solutions that work for all I think we need to center those who are not able to afford personal vehicles to get to where they want to go and where they're going. And that includes prioritizing transit and active transportation solutions that help connect people with jobs, schools, shopping and etc. Much of the county is covered by TriMet services area. And I'll support the upcoming Metro measure to expand transit and transportation solutions within the urban bound or the urban growth boundary, you know, we also need to figure out- we also must pay attention to transit solutions for those who live outside the urban growth boundaries. And especially, you know, I say that because the people who are in the outside the urban growth boundaries are not served by a TriMet. So we need to really figure out what solutions and how do we expand services to those people, too,

Althea Billings  5:45  
Right. And so, I want to ask about you now, we've talked a little bit about what your policy positions are. So you've lived in Oregon for 22 years, but you first came to the state as a refugee. How do you think that experience has impacted you- and sort of by extension, your campaign?

Nafisa Fai  6:03  
Good question. I want to say, you know, my, my lived experience really made me be able to do this and made me resilient. Running for a campaign, it's really hard work and a lot of- a lot of really hard work. And I think being a refugee in having values that are around people in low income and people experiencing poverty really made me the candidate I am and to run [an] aggressive platform that are very progressive and making sure that you know, stay true to centering those voices and those people who are impacted. So that's what I would say my experiences a refugee really made me like not to give up and to continue to hard- you know, work hard. I've been working really, I would say I've been campaigning relentlessly and- and- and not being tired and yeah, 

Althea Billings  7:03  
The can do spirit. I love it. So, you've worked in public health and a few different arenas as a program manager for Upstream Public Health, on the Clean Water Services Advisory Commission. You're a member of the Oregon Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and also on the board of the dental service nonprofit Dental3. That's a lot. So what is one issue related to public health that you think doesn't get quite enough attention?

Nafisa Fai  7:29  
 All that makes me also sound like I'm boring, but I'm pretty fun, I want to say. You know, I think one issue again, as a public health [expert], I think one of the, you know, I feel like Oregon we have- So the reality in Oregon is that if you wanted to buy a Christmas tree, you have to have a license, but if you wanted to buy a tobacco, you know you don't have- if you wanted to sell tobacco, you don't have to have a tobacco retail licensing. I feel like that's one issue that I really want to focus on and continue to carry the torch and make sure that you know, as a county, we are requiring people to sell- people who want to sell tobacco, retail licensing, and those are the some of the issues that I really want to focus on.

Althea Billings  8:19  
I what would be the, like the intended impact of having tobacco retailers be licensed?

Nafisa Fai  8:26  
I think accountability and protection for our youth. You know, we don't know who's selling tobacco right now if we want to, we can sort of guess all the, you know, convenience stores and they are selling but without having that accountability mechanism it's really hard to know who's selling and who they [are] selling to. So, you know, and this makes you know, this goes into line having healthy people and healthy communities really, protecting our kids making sure that people are held accountable to sell to people who are in right age and it starts with having retail licensing so that people know that they will be held accountable if they sell to youth. Because they didn't- they were too busy to check or, you know, they just didn't want to bother or they didn't know, because sometimes people don't even know that you have to be certain age to buy tobacco. So

Althea Billings  9:21  
Right and that change relatively recently. Yeah, it's funny to think about that. Well, not that the vape epidemic is over, but just compared to where we are now in terms of talking about epidemics.

Nafisa Fai  9:35  
Yeah. And then that, that that whole vape situation isn't over. It's just not in the news lately. But I think we need to figure out a way to really hold people accountable and make sure that our kids are protected. And we're creating, you know, certain barriers for kids to access and certain accountability mechanisms for people who are saying selling these products. So, so I'm excited by that I worked on when the whole e-cigarette regulations era and you know that Oregon was the first to- long before the FDA regulated e-cigarettes we regulated it here 

Althea Billings  10:16  
Oh wow I don't think I did know that. 

Nafisa Fai  10:17  
Yeah, there was no age requirements, Oregon made it 18 just before the T 21. But and then the the FDA  few months later came out and said you have to be 18 to buy electronic cigarettes.

Althea Billings  10:33  
Wow. Okay. So thinking about your experience in public health, how do you think that will translate to the Washington County Commission?

Nafisa Fai  10:42  
You know, commission- a lot of the commissioners, there is a diverse experience and backgrounds and I'm excited to bring the public health background to the commission, and I'll be the public health expert on the commission. I'm excited about that part.

Althea Billings  10:58  
Yeah, and then I'm curious about what your thoughts are about sort of the coronavirus right now, and sort of the hype and the confusion and the you know, cleaned out store shelves.

Nafisa Fai  11:15  
Yeah, one of the Costcos has had a long line to get in. I've never even seen that ever happen, or would I ever would have dreamed that would have been the case. 

Althea Billings  11:27  

Nafisa Fai  11:27  
But, you know, it's scary in what we don't know. It's- it's hard to combat that. But I think we need to trust our public health officials and, and do what they're telling us to do. Wash our hands, stay home if you're, you know, home is the best way to get better. And and if you have to you know go out do the protocol, follow the protocols, you know, You're sneeze and continue to watch you don't touch your face constantly and but, I'm one of those people that are- I was scared. I was like, Oh my gosh, this is happening. What do we do? You know, but I didn't, I didn't go  shopping, or I didn't try to buy a whole bunch of stuff. So, but it's scary times and it's, it's really I, you know, I have my mom here so I'm worried about that and we're taking some precautions to make sure she's, you know, when people come in, not shake hands and just wave at each other, you know? 

Althea Billings  12:41  

Nafisa Fai  12:42  
But but yeah, I'm but- I trust our health officials and I think it'll pass.

Althea Billings  12:52  
Yeah, I think people- you know, you feel like you want to do something drastic. And if I do something drastic, then I'll be safe. And the advice being wash your hands a lot. Say home. Don't go to work. 

Nafisa Fai  13:07  
Yeah, don't go to work or, you know, don't send your kids to school if they're sick, you know, just think small things that can protect us. But we're human. And you know, I think the first thing we want to do is like, go shopping and stock up and but my husband was like, do we have any doctor's appointments because we're not going to the doctor when he woke up these like, we're not going any doctors appointment? On Monday. And I was like, oh we don't have any doctor's appointment. 

Althea Billings  13:42  
That's probably the opposite of some people who are desperate to get into the doctor to be told they're okay.

Nafisa Fai  13:47  
But, but, but we still would have kept our doctor's appointment because I don't think we're in any danger, you know, if we follow what we're told.

Althea Billings  13:56  
Right. And so for people who are interested in Your campaign what's the best way for them to get involved?

Unknown Speaker  14:04  
I have a website and I have a social media. My website is NafisaforWashingtonCounty.com. And people can sign up to volunteer to door knock with me. They can, you know, host a house party, and you know, get involved in the campaign to really or even if they just want to observe to what what's like to run for office in or how is the campaign run, they can sign up there too. And I have a Facebook Nafisa for Washington County. Nafisa Fai for Washington County on on Facebook, which is easily comes up I hear

Althea Billings  14:45  
Okay, good. Yeah. Is there anything else you want to impart to the listeners today?

Nafisa Fai  14:49  
I would say if you are listening and live in Washington County, vote for me, Nafisa Fai for Washington County District One which is Beaverton, Aloha, Cooper mountain and Reedville area. It's exciting times, times are changing. And I'm excited to be a voice that represents and reflects the people in our district and to bring my experience and backgrounds as a public health professional, as a business owner, and as a community organizer or community activist to the commission and really be impactful and make tremendous impact for District One.

Althea Billings  15:25  
Awesome. Well, Nafisa, thank you so much for being here. 

Nafisa Fai  15:28  
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Althea Billings  15:30  
We've been speaking with the Nafisa Fai a candidate for Washington County Commissioner District One more information on Nafisa and her campaign are available online at NafisaforWashingtonCounty.com. For KBOO News in Depth, I'm Althea Billings.

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