Four months after hosting forums on the past and future of gentrification in North and Northeast Portland—and nearly a year after the churn and controversy of an aborted attempt to plop a Trader Joe's at NE MLK and Alberta—city officials late Friday finally fleshed out a long-promised plan to redirect $20 million in urban renewal cash toward affordable housing needs.

More than half of the funding in the plan (pdf)—$11 million—would be spent on developing as many as 140 affordable rental homes ($8 million) and "banking" available land that might one day be used for affordable homes ($3 million).

An additional 240 households ($4 million) would receive funding for repairs that are too expensive for current homeowners who otherwise would have to sell. The rest of the money ($5 million) would provide help with down payments and work with nonprofits to secure affordable single-family homes for up to 72 would-be homebuyers.

But the most important promise—and most difficult—concerns not just how that money will be spent, but on whom.

The housing bureau wants to lavish its assistance on those who've already been displaced from what was once a significant African American community (created by red-lining and discriminatory housing policies), sent east as new light rail and past redevelopment plans made it easier for developers and wealthier homeowners to snap up suddenly choice lots relatively close to downtown.

That goal, concerning something like a "right of return," was a major part of the forums held last fall on how community members wanted to see the new money spent. But it has yet to be translated into a legal, foolproof policy, according to city documents.


There may yet be some hitches. Because the cash is coming from the Portland Development Commission, it's legally bound for projects within the city's Interstate urban renewal area. That zone includes much, but not all, of the gentrifying areas the city has flagged for attention. As such, the housing bureau says it will seek additional money this spring, from the city's general fund, to create similar programs for residents whose homes are outside urban renewal boundaries but still subject to the same displacement pressure.

The $20 million from PDC comes atop a citywide policy of setting aside 30 percent of total urban renewal tax revenues for housing for people making no more than 60 percent of the region's median income. That means it's money that otherwise would have been spent on other projects, like improving businesses or fixing up streetscapes like North Lombard.

Housing officials also acknowledge what African American leaders see as a string of broken promises and misguided offers for help stretching back decades.


A community board would be created, the bureau says. And that board would spend the next five years judging progress, or the lack thereof, in "real time"—offering suggestions for adjustments as needed.

The proposal is up for a Portland City Council hearing at 2 pm Wednesday.