Mayor Charlie Hales and Portland's urban renewal agency just announced tonight that they'll renew a controversial push for a new Trader Joe's at NE MLK and Alberta—after convening a meeting with dozens of leaders from the city's African American community today and promising a major expansion of city-subsidized—ffordable housing in the area.
Hales, according to a statement sent out by his office, will basically get on the phone with Trader Joe's ASAP to get them to reconsider last month's decision to pull out of a long-awaited development deal amid an outcry among some community members over gentrification and the city's 20th century record of disinvestment.
The agreement also includes a promise to use minority-owned construction businesses and work to bring minority businesses into the rest project and nearby storefronts, in part to "create and support a robust business and commercial district." The rough outline of the deal—the new Trader Joe's push, and a brief mention of housing—was first reported by Willamette Week.
“We cannot change the past but we can and must learn from it,” Hales said in a statement sent by his office. “This historically African-American sector of our city needs jobs. It needs economic opportunity. And it needs affordable housing. And working together, the community leaders and I are committed to this future.
Today's meeting at city hall included the Portland African American Leadership Forum, one of the loudest voices in the debate over the Trader Joe's. PAALF said it was as surprised as anybody when the deal for Trader Joe's collapsed—and insisted that it really wanted a broader conversation about the effects of city development decisions in the face of deep demographic shifts in one of the traditional hearts of the city's black community.
In what appears to be a gesture of peace (coming after some in the black community, including State Representative Lew Frederick, criticized PAALF), Cyreena Ashby, the group's leader, was specifically name-checked as a supportin the statement sent by Hales' office. So was Michael Alexander of the Urban League of Portland.
The sweetener, at least for PAALF, appears to be a promise to add some $20 million in affordable housing for the city's Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area—beyond the
$36 million $16.6 million already earmarked. [Update Tuesday, 1:15 PM: The mayor's office has issued a correction explaining that the new total, not the current amount, is $36 million.] The Interstate URA covers much of the city's old African American commercial centers while also looping in far-flung neighborhoods like St. Johns.
PAALF mentioned housing in its critique of the city's plan for the Trader Joe's—which amount to subsidizing all but $500,000 of a California developer's offer to buy a lot potentially worth as much as $3 million. It's unclear, however, how the city will define "affordable." In Old Town, as the Oregonian reported today, the city has discussed subsidizing "workforce" housing for people making almost $60,000 a year.
"PAALF has fought for a crucial conversation about stabilizing displacement, stopping gentrification, and addressing the lack of transparency and community engagement in City of Portland land development," according to the statement by Hales' office. "These issues are now getting the attention they deserve. PAALF views securing an additional $20M in tax increment housing dollars, and a seat at the table to craft their allocation as the start to a path of victory for all who have been displaced and marginalized for twenty years. PAALF will remain committed to this process and to promoting transparency moving forward."