Field Notes

Fighting years of gentrification's "destructive" effects

On a simple level, the statement is somewhat astonishing.

“We acknowledge that the Portland Development Commission’s (PDC’s) past work in North and Northeast Portland has contributed to the destructive impact of gentrification and displacement on the African American community.”

The quote doesn’t come from an activist. 

It’s from a letter jointly signed by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Patrick Quinton, the executive director of the Portland Development Corporation.


It was sent last month to Cyreena Boston Ashby, the director of the Portland African American Leadership Forum, a group founded five years ago by a group of Black leaders from different walks of life to address a variety of issues including economic development, health care and affordable housing.

The letter was a response to one from Ashby raising issues with the decision to sell land at Alberta and MLK in Northeast Portland to a developer who plans to bring in a Trader Joe’s.

The land - valued at $2.9 million - is being sold to Majestic Realty for just over $502,000. A tremendous discount.

“This decision is fraught with injustice and misgivings,” Asbhy wrote.

She and other leaders had met with Hales and Quinton when word of a possible Trader Joe’s deal first surfaced and left the meeting with the sense that the two were committed “to solving the issues related to gentrification and to finding community based solutions to stabilize Black residents.”

Once the decision was announced, Ashby and others were left shaking their heads.

“This decision indicates the opposite and reflects the City’s overall track record of implementing policies that serve to uproot, displace and disempower our most vulnerable community members,” she wrote.

To put some numbers behind what Ashby is talking about, check out a report issued last month by her group along with Portland State University.

They refer to research that shows that “the core of the city—particularly inner Northeast—has become significantly whiter since 2000. While in 2000, there were ten Census tracts in Albina that were majority Black, in 2010, there are none—after nearly 10,000 people of color (mostly Black) moved out. In all, 38 tracts in the city became more White and less diverse than in 2000.”

What kind of effects has this has had?

The report rattles off disturbing statistics about some of the obstacles facing the Black community in Portland:

Family income is less than half of White families; nearly 50% of children live in poverty compared to 13% of White children; unemployment is nearly double; fewer than one-third of Black families own their own homes compared to 60% of White households; more than half of Black teens do not complete high school, compared to just over one-third of White students.

To the credit of Mayor Hales and Mr. Quinton, they recognize this to some extent; this is what they are referring to when they write of the “destructive” impact years of efforts have had on the black community.

At the same time, you have to wonder how much Hales and Quinton are really listening to what Ashby and PAALF had to say.

Right after their line admitting to the “destructive” impacts had gentrification has had, they add:

“PDC today, however, has equity at the core of its mission and a heightened sensitivity to the impact of its investments and programs on communities of color, and we welcome partnerships with organizations like the Portland African American Forum (PAALF) as we work to build a more equitable Portland.”

Kind of, we have your best interests at heart, you just need to trust us.

It’s important to remember that no one is saying that PDC’s gentrification efforts are the only reason the Black community in Portland is having problems; that because some developments have gone through kids automatically end up in poverty.

Everyone knows things are much more complicated than that.

The point is that Oregon - and Portland - have had a not so admirable history when it comes to dealing with the black community.

As the PAALF report says - “African-Americans have lived in Multnomah County since before Oregon became a state. Oregon’s racial history has been troubled, to say the least, but Black Oregonians have made an impact and today are present in all walks of life.

“Unfortunately, while making great strides in some areas, many of the conditions for which elder generations sought redress still plague our community and constrain opportunity.”

If the Trader Joe’s is built, it will not be the final nail in the coffin for that community - and, maybe Mayor Hales is right and it will help the community that is there.

Maybe not.

Ashby, PAALF, the NAACP and others all have serious questions about the future of their community starting with is Trader Joe’s the best answer for there and why did the developer get such a serious discount on the property.

They want answers to their questions. They want to be heard.

They have every right to be.