The rows of houses along Interstate--an odd assortment of Victorians and ticky-tack ranch homes--are calm, even though they sit in one of Portland's most heated battlefields. In a few years, an extension to the MAX line will tie the city's economic center directly to the traditionally isolated and working-class neighborhoods of North Portland. And, if history in cities like Seattle and San Francisco is an apt indicator, these rows of homes will become prime property and the first footholds for gentrification.

But, on Saturday, an assorted group of residents--young, old, black, white--took the first step towards halting gentrification. Under the guidance of Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT), the residents-cum-activists began stirring up troops and support to thwart the ill-effects of development--namely, rent increases, property tax hikes, and ultimately, displacement.

CAT recently joined Neighbors Maximizing Stability, a 13-member coalition of neighborhood associations and city-sponsored housing programs. Under the guidance of City Commissioner Erik Sten, the coalition plans to help long-term residents stay put by hosting classes on tenant's rights and, most excitingly, handing out down payments so renters can purchase their homes. The ultimate goal of the newly launched, self-declared "anti-displacement" program is to dig trenches and roots as deeply as possible. That way, says Tanya Parker, who is spearheading the program for Sten's office, landlords can't as easily evict tenants and homeowners won't be tempted or forced to sell their homes.

The City has earmarked $1.5 million for a one-year pilot project. Although last Saturday was the first day that activists began canvassing the neighborhoods--hoping to alert residents to their rights and the new opportunities to stay put--Parker expressed grand plans to keep the neighborhood intact.

The most unique part of the program--unprecedented in other cities--is the plan to hand out or help with down payments. Parker explained that they want to give "bonus points" to residents living there longer than five years.

"Some people have said, 'that's not fair,'" explained Parker. "I would counter with it's not fair to the people who have made the neighborhood are now being squeezed out."