Overcoming Oregon’s Past and Embracing Diversity

By Monique Gaskins

Summer is here! Portlanders can take advantage of the warmer weather to explore new parts of town and meet new people. While moving around Portland, you might notice posters supporting neighbors of various ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Although this might seem unnecessary in “liberal Portland,” this wasn’t always the case. Starting before Oregon even achieved statehood, its inhabitants enacted various laws to preclude the immigration of non-white neighbors.

You may have overheard jokes about the lack of diversity in Oregon. For example, “There are no Black people in Portland.” Or, “You live in the Great White North.” You might have shaken your head and continued on, but the lack of diversity in Oregon is very real and isn’t due to chance. According to The US Census Bureau’s 2018 data, the percentage of Black residents nationwide is 13%. The percentage for the state of Oregon is 2%. The city of Portland is slightly higher, with 6% black residents. 

The low number of black residents in Oregon is not an accident and is the outcome of over 150 years of exclusionary policies.

  • 1844: The first Black exclusion law was adopted. This law mandated that “blacks attempting to settle in Oregon would be publicly whipped—thirty-nine lashes, repeated every six months—until they departed.”
  • 1850: The Donation land act of 1850 granted land to white settlers, establishing home ownership specifically to whites. This offered an incentive for more whites to populate Oregon, and reap the benefits of land ownership.
  • 1857: The Oregon Constitution was adopted. It excluded blacks from legal residence, including voting, using the legal system, and owning property. 

After explicit race-based policies were unavailable, other methods were utilized to maintain the homogenous status quo. The Ku Klux Klan had an active presence in Oregon, targeting not only black but also Jews and Catholics. This preference towards white protestant neighbors led many neighborhoods and individual homeowners to add restrictive clauses to their deeds or neighborhood documentation. For example, a deed from neighboring Irvington (officially Dolph Park at the time) included the following, “For a period of twenty-five years from the date of this dedication, the premises shall be used exclusively for residence purposes and shall be occupied by the white race and no member of any race other than the white race shall own or occupy any portion of DOLPH PARK”. This practice, called Redlining, made it difficult to procure bank loans and housing insurance for homes in non-white neighborhoods. Redlining also meant that these homes weren’t providing as many wealth building opportunities to its owners as those in white neighborhoods.

These clauses and related attitudes consolidated non-protestant whites into specific areas of the city, such as Eliot. From 1910 to the 1960s, blacks began moving to Eliot because of its convenient location to transportation, railroad, and hotel jobs. After the end of World War II, Portland targeted Albina (including Eliot) as a suitable neighborhood for blacks who were displaced in the Vanport flood of 1948. According to an interactive redlining map of Portland from around 1930, the Eliot neighborhood ranked as “Hazardous”, the lowest of 4 possible categories. The clarifying remarks are, “Zoned multi-family residential and business. This area constitutes Portland’s “Melting Pot” and is the nearest approach to a “slum district” in the city. “Three-quarters of the Negro population of the city reside here and in addition there are some 300 Orientals, 1000 Southern Europeans and Russians.” These categories made it difficult to qualify for loans and home insurance in Eliot, but residents often didn’t have much choice, as they were unwelcome in other parts of the city.

Portland’s lukewarm approval of a multicultural neighborhood in the middle of the city wouldn’t last. In the 1960s, the I-5 construction destroyed parts of Eliot and displaced many black residents. In the early 1970s, the city condemned parts of Eliot – including the land purchased for Legacy Emanuel – further disrupting black families. 

Today, housing in Portland is unaffordable for many people of all races, religions, and ethnicities. Let’s move beyond our history, and support policies that help all people feel more housing secure in our state, city, and neighborhood. A key to helping our neighborhood thrive is to allow diverse types of housing that would be more affordable to more people. Currently, much of Eliot is zoned for single-family homes, pushing up housing costs, and supporting a policy with racist roots. The Residential Infill Project aims to make housing more affordable by allowing more types of housing to be built in areas zoned for only single-family homes. Another resource is Portland for Everyone. They’re advocating for housing that will serve many different types of neighbors. 

Let’s learn from past mistakes and embrace diversity. Let’s be good neighbors, especially for people that might not have historically been welcomed in Oregon.

Taxed to Death? Part 1 of 2

By Mike Warwick

Introduction

It’s winter, a time for holiday cards and, less welcome, property tax bills. This time next year you may look back fondly at your tax bill as the Governor, Speaker of the House, and legislators from Beaverton and Hood River have all indicated they want to revisit our property tax system. Their public justification is that “gentrification” has resulted in “those homeowners” not “paying their fair share.” Of course, “gentrification” is a code word for homeowners in inner N/NE Portland; namely, us. To see how this might affect you and your neighbors, look at the difference between the “assessed value” and “market value” of your home. “Reform” will likely reset assessed value to market value so the difference (currently about 4 times for an older Eliot home), is how much taxes could increase; 400%!

Continue reading Taxed to Death? Part 1 of 2

More homes. All shapes and sizes. For all our neighbors.

This is the mantra encouraged by a Seattle based research group studying solutions to increase livability in their city. Portlanders find ourselves in a similar situation; we need more housing options. 40% of people in the Portland-Hillsboro-Vancouver MSA rent their homes. At the same time, according to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average rent for 1-bedroom apartments is no longer affordable for people earning the mean renter wage. For families that make less than half of the median family income (Portland’s median family income is around $83,000 per year), there is an affordable housing shortage. In Multnomah County, the estimated wait time for housing assistance is 14.5 years. If you were to get on the waitlist when your child is a baby, you’d be waiting for housing assistance until your child was a high schooler.

Continue reading More homes. All shapes and sizes. For all our neighbors.

Cascadia’s 52-unit Apartment Building

Garlington Center Housing
Garlington Center Housing

Garlington Place Apartments will open its doors in February 2018, offering 52 housing options including studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The four-story apartments will anchor the northern corner of Monroe Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, offering 31 units for anyone qualified, with preference for former North and Northeast Portland residents.  In addition, 10 units will be for Veterans who qualify and who are facing homelessness, as well as 10 units for people with mental health challenges. Cascadia began accepting Garlington Place applications through the Portland Housing Bureau’s Preference Policy on Monday, October 16th in anticipation of new tenants moving in as soon as February 2018.  This article is the third in a series describing Cascadia’s Garlington Health and Wellness campus, and explains the Garlington Place amenities and application process.

Continue reading Cascadia’s 52-unit Apartment Building