Proposed Development Jeopardizes African American Neighborhoods
"THERE SHOULD BE A LIMIT
on how often they can raise your rent," said Birdie Nipper, a 64-year-old who pays for her apartment on N Interstate Avenue with meager disability income. Five years ago, she and her neighbors were forced from a nearby building when new owners from California hiked the rents. Now, Nipper may be displaced again, a pawn in the city's rejuvenation plan. In late August, the City Council will vote on whether to create an urban renewal district on a 3,700-acre chunk of land aligned along N Interstate Avenue. If passed, the 20-year initiative will pump about $200 million into the ten-neighborhood area, for everything from parks to business development. Its centerpiece will be a MAX line running from the Rose Quarter to the Expo Center, a project funded by federal dollars. According to the plan's drafters, a broad-based committee convened last year by the Portland Development Commission, the effort will boost economic revitalization in the historically poor, predominantly African-American area.
But, community activists warn, revitalization has a price tag--one that low-income renters, elderly homeowners, and small businesses will shoulder.
"Because of the way urban renewal financing works," explained Joey Lions, a community organizer for the Coalition For A Livable Future, "there needs to be a certain level of gentrification for the project to be successful."
To fund urban renewal, explains Lions, the city sells bonds. Eventually, these must be paid back. So it makes the fairly safe gamble that as revitalization occurs, property values will rise as will property tax revenue. In turn, these gains will be used to repay the bonds. Essentially, North Portland's urban renewal will come at residents' own expense. Despite the plan's stated goal of preserving affordable housing, renter rights activist Dana Brown says that until the city puts "their best minds" to the problem, low-income residents will remain at risk. Pauline Bradford, a 55-year resident of Eliot neighborhood and a vocal watchdog of the plan, agrees: "If you're at the bottom of the food chain, you pay the price."