Portland, Organ – A Case Study of Community-Driven Strategies to Mitigate and Remediate the Displacement of African-American Residents
The inner neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland (N/NE Portland) were once home to 80 percent of Portland’s black community. Following decades of disinvestment, subsequent urban renewal, and large-scale public and private investment projects, the area has been rapidly gentrifying, with rising housing costs and large- scale loss of African Americans. Since 2000, the area has lost close to 8,000 black residents–more than half the area’s black population.
In 2013, mounting tensions in the community over gentrification and publicly-financed economic development in the area came to a head over the proposed use of prime public land and tax increment financing (TIF) for a development anchored by a Trader Joe’s grocery store. Local African-American leaders organized protests of the new development and succeeded in getting the City to revamp its investment strategy in the community, shifting $100 million towards mitigating displacement of low-income residents in Inner N/NE Portland. Responding to the community’s concerns, the City of Portland, anchored by ongoing active community involvement and a community-driven plan, has been deploying a number of innovative strategies and tools for addressing displacement in the area.
Key Strategies & Tools
- N/NE Neighborhood Housing Strategy.
A five-year, community-driven plan for expanding affordable housing opportunities and preventing displacement in Inner N/NE Portland. The plan utilizes several different affordable housing strategies including rental repairs, land acquisition, and new homeownership and rental housing, and identifies specific timeframes and measurable goals to track progress.
- Dedicated TIF funding.
Implementation of the N/NE Neighborhood Housing Strategy was originally funded with $20 million in dedicated tax increment financing (TIF). Since then, the City’s financial commitment to mitigating displacement in the area has grown to more than $100 million in TIF funds to be invested over a six-year period.
- Community Oversight Committee.
The N/NE Portland Oversight Committee oversees the City’s implementation of the N/NE Neighborhood Housing Strategy. The committee’s work includes providing input on development projects in the area, monitoring the City’s progress towards benchmarks in the Housing Strategy, and issuing an annual report to the City Council. The Oversight Committee is meant to represent and be responsive to the community. It is made up of trusted community leaders, topic area experts, and directly impacted community members.
- Preference Policy.
The Housing Strategy provides priority placement in subsidized housing units in N/NE Portland to residents with generational ties to N/NE Portland who were displaced or are at risk of displacement from areas where prior city plans had a destabilizing impact on long- term residents. Priority preference is given to households and their descendants who own property lost through urban renewal.
Portland’s Down Payment Assistance Loan Program for helping low-income, first-time homebuyers in N/NE Portland served only four families from 2015 through 2017, despite a goal of serving 40 households. With market home prices at $400,000, homeownership is out of reach for most low-income households, even with individual assistance of $100,000.
The Preference Policy does not create affordable housing, and so its success is dependent on the availability of affordable housing stock. In 2016, 1,000 households applied through the preference policy program for 65 homeownership slots.
The focus on mitigating displacement in N/NE Portland is fairly new, and it is still too early to tell how successful different strategies will be. However, the Oversight Committee already has a successful track record of providing transparency and accountability to the City’s anti-displacement programs in N/NE Portland, closely monitoring the City’s programs, and identifying barriers and challenges as well as opportunities for improvement.
- New affordable rental housing (on line or in development): 350+ units in 7 multifamily developments
- Average city investment (TIF funds) per new affordable rental unit (2016): $64,755
- Homeownership units repaired: 326+
1. Develop a community-driven, comprehensive, neighborhood-level strategy to address residential displacement for vulnerable residents. Align the strategy with community needs, be clear about goals, and be transparent in assessing outcomes.
2. Back community strategies with substantial, dedicated funding. Preservation at a scale large enough to be meaningful requires large levels of dedicated funding.
3. Prioritize meaningful community participation. Take it seriously. This requires an assertive effort to reduce barriers to participation and reach out to directly impacted current and former residents. Community voices should be incorporated into every step of the planning process. Strategies and outcomes should be in clear and demonstrable alignment with community needs and priorities.
4. Incorporate community-responsive oversight into mitigation displacement and affordable housing preservation plans. An oversight committee provides critical transparency and accountability in strategy implementation and outcomes. Oversight leadership should be trusted and well-respected by the community and responsive to the community’s needs.
5. Affordable homeownership for low-income families is difficult to achieve in hot market neighborhoods. To make homeownership affordable in markets where median housing prices vastly exceed what households earning the median family income can afford, cities have to be willing to support the units with very large subsidies.