A plan to increase public monies for the construction of more affordable housing units in the gentrified neighborhoods of north and northeast Portland is drawing a mixed review.
“It doesn’t undo what was promised when the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area was established [in the year 2,000],” says Maxine Fitzpatrick, director of the Portland Community Reinvestment Initiative (PCRI) and co-chair of the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF).
Fitzpatrick, says Mayor Charlie Hales’ recent proposal of adding $20 million to affordable housing stock to some of the impacted neighborhoods would help black families and other disadvantaged populations both stay and return to the area, but says the eventual construction of new housing units would not by any means act as a cure to gentrification.
Hales’ proposal came last month after he converged with “50 leaders of the African-American community and neighborhood and business representatives,” to try to rescue a planned development of a Trader Joe’s grocery on northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Alberta Street that would get support from the Portland Development Commission.
Hales called for the additional housing support after PAALF made local and national headlines for their protests of the Trader Joe’s proposal in which they suggested the site should include construction of affordable housing in some capacity.
The specialty grocer was almost certainly going to build on the lot when the PDC deal was announced in November, but by January a Trader Joe’s spokesperson announced they were pulling out of the deal citing the community’s protest.
The city had already assured $34.4 million to subsidize housing construction through 2021 that is reserved for low and moderate income people and families.
According to the report Portland’s African American Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile, by the Coalition of Communities of Color and School of Social Work at Portland State University, black people make up 18 percent of the local homeless population, compared to just 7 percent of the general population. African Americans are also overrepresented in emergency shelters and transitional housing.
Other key points from the 2013 report: Black residents of Portland have the lowest homeownership rate of all groups, including other minority groups; the black community has experienced the greatest number of housing foreclosures; black residents pay the highest percent of household income on housing; the experience of African-Americans in Portland has been marked by several cycles of displacement; and the median net worth for black households in 2011 was $6,446, which was lower than it was in 1984 at $7,150.
PCRI and Sabin Community Development Corporation are two nonprofit organizations that address housing in a culturally specific method for black people in the city. Sabin holds 120 units of affordable housing
The heightened publicity around gentrification also drew attention to Oregon’s 1999 ban on mandatory inclusionary zoning, which prevents local jurisdictions from ensuring construction of affordable housing in “neighborhoods of opportunity”.
Attorney Jenny Logan and the Housing Land Advocate board members worked to overturn the ban in 2013; the efforts resulted in a bill by Sen. Chip Shields and Rep. Reardon that year to repeal it.
Ultimately the legislation didn’t make it to the floor for a vote.
However, state and local governments are still free to allocate dollars to areas that are in the midst of, or soon to be under heavy development.
The Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area encompasses 3,390 acres of north and northeast Portland, spanning from parts of the St. John’s neighborhood to the west, to the Columbia River on the north and connecting several neighborhoods along both sides of Northeast Martin Luther King Boulevard, North Lombard and North Interstate Avenue.
Under city policy, 30 percent of the of the property tax monies generated within the district are to be allocated to housing projects geared to people who earn less than 60 percent of the region’s median income, which is $69,000 for a family of four.
According to the most recent census numbers, over 10,000 people moved out of northeast Portland between the time the Interstate Urban Renewal District was established in 2000 and 2010, most of whom identified as African American.
Chris Guinn Sr., the co-owner of Dwell Realty, a company that exists right at the edge of Vanport Square and the proposed Trader’s Joes, says the effectiveness of the mayor’s proposal depends greatly on how “affordable housing” will ultimately defined, and where the city where ultimately develop the bulk of these houses.
Ultimately, Guinn, a local African American resident, says he’d like to see more median-income housing in the area.
“I don’t really think we need low income housing per se– I think we need middle income housing in the area,” Guinn says.
In a statement to the Portland Observer, Portland Housing Bureau director Traci Manning who works directly with the PDC acknowledged gentrification as a “result of government actions [that have] occurred for decades in inner northeast Portland and the Interstate Corridor.”
“Most of that can’t be changed.” she says.
Despite this sentiment, Manning remains hopeful that proposals like the mayor’s will allow for the kind of economic activity that will allow current families to stay in the area, and allow others to return.
Of note, community leaders are encouraging neighborhood residents to attend a meeting to discuss affordable housing issues at the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, located at 4815 N.E. Seventh Ave., on Thursday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m.
–Donovan M. Smith
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