THIS TIME, the smartly dressed Bishop Steven Holt wasn't presiding onstage, clutching a mic the way you might imagine him leading a sermon.

Instead, he was sitting down—though still impeccably dressed. There was a microphone, resting a few inches from his face, though it was hardly a personal instrument of rhetoric. This time Holt was sitting across from the stage—shoulder to shoulder with the city's housing director—waiting to address the expectant faces of Portland's city commissioners.

So much of Holt's visit to council chambers was different from the speeches he'd been giving—at a series of community forums starting last fall—on how the city ought to spend $20 million over the next five years to fight gentrification in Portland's traditional African American neighborhoods.

But the history lesson he was about to recite was the same. Holt traced the black community's long road from Vanport and redlining, to disinvestment and destruction, followed by renewal that's largely left out, and pushed out, longtime and beleaguered residents.

"In 1990, you see what I call the 'dark chocolate' extending," he said while explaining color-coded maps showing the spread of African Americans across North and Northeast Portland and their eventual decline. "And then we see 2000... there's a switch, not as much. In 2010, there's almost an absence of the dark chocolate, where African Americans were concentrated."

His well-worn warning was also the same.

"There have been promises that have been made that weren't kept," he reminded the council.

Holt could've been speaking directly to just Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Dan Saltzman. Both have spent years in politics, presiding over past plans to help Albina and Boise-Eliot. And both were instrumental in plotting this new $20 million plan, which Hales hoped to spread like salve, after outcry over an aborted plan to put a Trader Joe's at NE MLK and Alberta. The grocer had bailed on Portland after African American neighbors clamored for more housing and a bigger voice in shaping city policy.

"What we're trying to do," said Holt, a respected pastor who's agreed to lead a first-of-its-kind community panel tasked with watching over the $20 million, "is to make sure that doesn't happen again."

But this time, even a kept promise might not be enough.

CONTINUE READING>>>