The new Portland Mercado on Southeast Foster Road is making the Foster-Powell neighborhood – already facing gentrification pressure – more desirable. City officials say the Mercado will provide permanent affordable spaces for Latino- merchants, just the thing needed to head off displacement.
Up and down the West coast, city efforts to forestall gentrification have proved largely futile.But Portland is giving it a try.
As the city redraws its state-mandated comprehensive land-use plan to guide development and zoning over the next 20 years, it’s poised to include new strategies to ward off displacement of residents when neighborhoods grow more desirable.
Portland rents are skyrocketing, and a 2013 study by PSU professor Lisa Bates found a host of neighborhoods in North, Northeast and Southeast Portland were vulnerable to gentrification — even a swath of East Portland between 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205. A February report in Governing magazine found Portland has experienced gentrification in more neighborhoods than any other of the nation’s 50 largest cities since 2000.
That same month, a coalition of 22 Portland community groups released an 11-point plan for tough new anti-displacement policies, and began lobbying city planners and the Planning and Sustainability Commission to insert those into the new comprehensive land use or “comp plan.”
The coalition, which formed just for this campaign, got a surprisingly sympathetic response.
“Right now, we’re feeling like we have substantial success on all 11 of them,” says Cameron Herrington, a coalition leader who works on anti-gentrification strategies for the group Living Cully. The Planning and Sustainability Commission is slated to hold a final work session on the comp plan on June 23 and then forward it to the City Council for final adoption.
It remains to be seen, though, if the good intentions and flowery language being added to the comp plan will result in meaningful change, or if it’s too late to avert widespread gentrification.
Nearly half of Portlanders are tenants. Many live in fear their monthly rent will jump $300, forcing them to move on 30 days’ notice, says Justin Buri, executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants, which is part of the ad hoc coalition.
In past eras, low-income tenants and people of color were most subject to being pushed out by higher rents. “For the first time in our history,” Buri says, “it’s starting to have an impact on higher-income white renters as well.”
The coalition’s strategies include a displacement impact analysis before the city undertakes major projects, provisions to ease or prevent such impacts, and proposals to add more affordable housing.
“There’s not a silver bullet to (avert) gentrification,” says André Baugh, chairman of the Planning and Sustainability Commission. “All of these things combined can make an impact.”
Why the comp plan?
The comp plan is “where the city articulates its values and priorities,” says Khanh Pham, a coalition leader who works on environmental justice issues for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, known as APANO. “We don’t see this as the end of the fight, but I think it is a crucial starting point,” Pham says.
The core function of the comp plan is to provide for places where future Portlanders will live and work, says Eric Engstrom, the city’s principal planner overseeing much of the comp plan rewrite. “Displacement is a sign that it isn’t working for everyone.”
The coalition includes nonprofits and advocacy groups that focus on affordable housing, land use and economic development issues, often working closely with tenants and people of color. It was more effective than those working on anti-gentrification in the past because it spoke with one voice, Baugh says.
Separately, the city is studying the idea of granting developers the right to build larger projects, such as in the central city or mixed-use zones in neighborhoods, in exchange for building some affordable housing.
Coalition members don’t want to repeat the widespread displacement of Portland’s African-American community from its historic base in inner North and Northeast Portland as that area gentrified in the past 10 or 20 years.
“If we had some of this in the last comp plan,” Herrington says, “the results might have been different.”
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