Construction on Charlotte B. Rutherford Place in 2017, one of the citys affordable housing complexes built in North Portland
Construction on Charlotte B. Rutherford Place in 2017, one of the city's affordable housing complexes built in North Portland NATALIE BEHRING

In one of its first votes of the new year, Portland City Council unanimously approved a proposal to increase the amount of funds reserved for affordable housing in North and Northeast Portland by $67 million.

The vote increases the maximum amount of funding the city can take from taxes on property that lies within the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area, a 3,990-acre region that's been the focus of community investment grants since 2000. These new funds will go directly back into current affordable housing and community development programs in the area that focus on supporting Black residents who've been systematically displaced from North and Northeast Portland's historically Black neighborhoods.

The decision has raised opposition, however, from those whose families were displaced through a particularly damaging project approved by the city in the 1970s: the expansion of Emmanuel Hospital, now Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, in Northeast Portland's Eliot neighborhood

In 1971, the City of Portland declared neighborhoods surrounding the original hospital grounds "blighted," and used the power of eminent domain to transfer 55 acres of largely private property to the hospital in the name of urban renewal. The decision displaced 171 households, the majority of which were occupied by Black homeowners.

Those families and their descendants, members of the group Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2 (EDPA2), protested the funding expansion vote in December, arguing that the city never followed through with its decades-old promise to replace the lost housing one-for-one.

According to Kimberly Branam, director of the city's urban development bureau Prosper Portland, the city has already replaced those lost homes with 2,000 affordable units spread across North and Northeast Portland since 2000. At the same time, however, gentrification displaced an estimated 10,000 Black Portlanders from Northeast Portland between 2000 and 2010.

EDPA2 argued that the city's added housing units came far too late for families displaced by the Emmanuel expansion, failing to make up for the loss of generational wealth Black families lost in this disruption. In December, descendants of the displaced families asked City Council to pay restitution to all Portlanders who lost their homes or businesses to the city through the Emmanuel project.

On Wednesday, city commissioners agreed that these families were treated unfairly, but said the urban renewal vote before them wasn't the correct tool to restore justice.

"It's not the ultimate solution for restitution and reparations that we as a city must come to terms with," said Commissioner Carmen Rubio before casting her vote. "This ordinance does not repair the harms done to Black Portlanders. We seriously have a long way to go. This amendment is, however, a piece to the puzzle to building community."

Rubio was followed by fellow council newcomer Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who called the renewal project a "modern, innovative way to address past injustices."

"I hope and pray that passing this proposal will be the beginning of the healing of this city," Mapps added.

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Both Rubio and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty mentioned holding a separate conversation on reparations for the Black and Indigenous communities in Portland.

Hardesty said the discussion should include realtors, homebuilders, and representatives from Legacy Emmanuel who were involved in the displacement.

"We have a lot of work to do to create a city that is equitable for us all," Hardesty said. "Today is about investing in Interstate. But let's not let the work stop there."