From the March 20 edition of Street Roots.
The housing economic forces that affect North and Northeast Portland today are rooted in changes that began decades ago. In the late 1980s, the neighborhoods suffered from economic neglect, despite having one of the most concentrated and attractive housing stocks in the city for families of all sizes. Property values languished, and one such company, Dominion Capital, seized an opportunity – illegally.
In a community that had been living with the economic abuse of redlining, Dominion took advantage of homeowners on the brink and purchased homes in what was later revealed as a fraudulent scheme that treated their customers with deception, foreclosures and evictions. The company filed for bankruptcy and its representatives were convicted of multiple charges of racketeering and fraud, leaving 354 properties swinging in the breeze of a bankruptcy court seeking assets.
But the neighborhood and civic leaders rallied to preserve the properties and their families, and Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives Inc., or PCRI, assumed control of the units. The nonprofit organization, which operates as a community development corporation to preserve, maintain and develop affordable housing, set about helping families remain in their homes, and securing the rest of the properties as permanently affordable housing.
Today, residents of North and Northeast Portland are not living under economic neglect, but rather the opposite: economic attention that has fortified gentrification and sent housing prices soaring, along with tax obligations and a widening gap between those who can and cannot continue to afford living there. The result has been an economic exodus from the area by what Maxine Fitzpatrick calls the indigenous population – the people of color who have lived in Northeast Portland for generations.
Fitzpatrick is the executive director of PCRI and has served on the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Advisory Committee since its inception in 2000. When the urban renewal district was established, it was expected that people would flock to the area for the benefits and then indigenous residents would be displaced – and that’s what happened, Fitzpatrick says.
In response, PCRI joined with Hacienda CDC and the Native American Youth and Family Center to address the loss of minority families and culture in the community and help families not only live, but also thrive in their neighborhood.
Joanne Zuhl: With the migration out of the neighborhood, what did this community lose?
Maxine Fitzpatrick: We lost indigenous Northeast Portland, African-Americans, Native Americans, and even lower income white Americans as well as Latino-Americans. It transitioned – in one year, the median family income in Northeast Portland went up 16 percent. But the residents we serve, their income went down significantly. Northeast Portland had a lower home ownership rate than any other section of the city. So you had fewer homeowners in this neighborhood, and you had the lowest income, and people come in and median income rises.
And many of them at the same time lost their jobs, because this was at the time when we were transitioning from a manufacturing base to more of a service base, where people lived.