By Vicki Guinn
The vacant land bordering N. Russell, Williams and Vancouver streets on the Legacy Emanuel campus was once part of a thriving community called Albina that housed most African Americans in Portland and Oregon during the 1940s and 50s. Institutional racism made it illegal and difficult to own land as a minority. With few options beyond Portland’s least desirable areas, African Americans primarily settled in the city’s northeast quadrant.
In the 1960s, the federal government deemed urban areas like Albina “blighted” and urged cities to tear down substandard housing and seek funds to improve the site. As a result, the Portland Development Commission (PDC) and the City of Portland condemned, purchased, and demolished to make way for urban renewal projects. It included 188 properties as part of the Emanuel Hospital expansion project. Emanuel Hospital purchased these properties from PDC and acquired additional properties from individual owners to expand its campus in North Portland.
REALIZING OUR WRONG
As a part of Legacy Health’s commitment to do better, a community advisory board was formed shortly after Legacy Emanuel’s 100th anniversary (2012) with leaders from the Black community. The advisory board would meet quarterly at Legacy Emanuel to discuss developments for the campus and the use of Legacy Health’s community benefit funds to support grassroots health efforts in the Black community.
The advisory group also provided feedback to Legacy Health and leadership on areas to improve. One point consistently brought up was how the vacant land at the corner of Williams and Russell served as a painful reminder of the past. After this feedback, Legacy Health’s former president and CEO, Dr. George Brown, began to devise a plan to have that land donated back to Portland’s Black community.
A PATH TO MOVE FORWARD
On August 1, 2017, Legacy Health, along with the City of Portland and PDC, now called Prosper Portland, announced a joint effort to develop a project on the 1.7 acres of land that sits between Vancouver, Russell, Williams, and Knott streets. The land, formerly known as the Hill Block and currently owned by Legacy Health, would be donated. The project’s goal was to honor Portland’s Black community, create wealth, and carry on Legacy’s good health mission for the community. From this announcement, the Williams and Russell Project Working Group (PWG) was formed.
The PWG consists of local Black leaders and other community-minded individuals and leaders from Legacy Health, the City of Portland and Prosper Portland. Some of the same individuals sat on the Legacy Emanuel advisory group.
Legacy Health Board Chair Charles Wilhoite says, “We are feeling hopeful for the future and Legacy is looking forward to donating this land to restore an element of place and vibrancy lost by the Black community.” Wilhoite also serves as a non-voting member of the PWG.
The PWG and Legacy, the City and Prosper, engaged in community outreach to gain insight into what the Black community would want to see developed on the site. Information was gathered through public and private meetings, surveys and questionnaires. The outcome was to bring housing and business opportunities back to this site.
Today, the PWG and local city groups work together to raise and identify funds to develop the land and bring these opportunities to the local Black community. A Request for Proposal will go out this month to identify a developer.
“There is a renewed focus on racial justice in our country, our state and at Legacy,” says Legacy Health President and CEO Kathryn Correia. “Gifting the Hill Block property back to the Black community is the right thing to do. Earlier this year, I stated that we must recognize our organization’s historical role in perpetuating racist systems and our commitment to dismantling these systems, says Correia. “If we’re going to advance a culture of anti-racism within Legacy and in our communities, we have to be better at addressing social determinants of health and eliminating health disparities. We have to look toward the future and that means righting the wrongs of our past.”
To learn more about this story, read our previous project update here.
To learn more about Legacy Health’s goal for health equity, visit us here.
For inquiries, contact Vicki Guinn with Legacy Health Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org.