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The notion that Rockwood Rising will result in higher rents is unfounded, we argue.

COURTESY GRAPHIC - Concept rendering facing west with new plaza and three buildings, including the public market.You've heard recently from a group of Rockwood-area activists who are vocal in their opposition to the Rockwood Rising Project, saying the redevelopment in the space between Burnside and Stark streets will lead to gentrification and eventually force out low-income families as they find it increasingly difficult to afford skyrocketing rents.

The group, Pueblo Unido PDX, is an advocacy organization for Latino immigrants living in East Multnomah County.

Though you can sympathize with Pueblo Unido's basic fears, you also should worry that this group is likely doing the people of Rockwood more harm than good.

At the center of Pueblo Unido's argument is advocacy for putting the brakes on Rockwood Rising, essentially portraying this mixed-use redevelopment of the former Fred Meyer site as a catalyst for higher rents. Pueblo Unido argues for no change as a better alternative to redevelopment, which they say will break the status quo on rents.

Such a decision would be sorrowfully unwise for the people of Rockwood, and would only serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty from generation to generation.

Rockwood Rising is the centerpiece of the city of Gresham's urban renewal program. The development has been in the planning stages since 2014, and project staff have met with stakeholders in the neighborhood to help guide decisions. When finished in 2019, the site will include a public plaza with play structures for children, an innovation hub with services for local residents, locally owned retail stores, apartments (20 percent regulated affordable and 80 percent market rates), and a market hall with foods representing the cultures of the community.

A guiding principle of the Rockwood Rising project is that it would be a catalyst for ongoing private-sector development, ushering in employment opportunities and a rebirth for the neighborhood with a mix of incomes, rents and employment opportunities.

Another guiding principle is the notion of breaking the cycle of poverty concentrated within Rockwood. This is the single most important reason for moving ahead with the redevelopment effort.

The Office of Policy Development and Research of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports neighborhoods that concentrate poverty tend to isolate their residents, and that poor neighborhoods accelerate crime, delinquency, lower educational expectations, mental-health distress and even problems with physical health.

A large study conducted in 2009 — "Neighborhoods and the Black-White Mobility Gap" — examined the effects of concentrated poverty. The Pew Economic Mobility Project tracked 5,000 families and discovered that no other factor — including parents' education, employment or marital status — was as important as neighborhood poverty in explaining why African-American children were so much more likely to have lower incomes than their parents as adults.

Let that sink in for a minute ...

Delaying or even pulling the plug on the Rockwood Rising project would only serve to drive this neighborhood deeper into the abyss of concentrated poverty, the polar reverse of what Gresham city government and neighborhood partners hope to accomplish. The well-intending members of Pueblo Unido PDX are truly advocating for their own demise.

Taking this one step further, the notion that Rockwood Rising will result in higher rents is unfounded.

A study conducted by the city of Gresham says several factors suggest the Rockwood neighborhood will continue as the most affordable in terms of rents. Gresham rents are already deemed among the most affordable as a percentage of income, with Rockwood even lower in cost, when compared to communities throughout the metro area.

The study shows the rate of rent growth has slowed since reaching its peak in 2015, a reflection of new housing in the market — basic supply and demand economics. And with more rental housing planned for East Multnomah County, the pressure to increase rents will be even less.

The same study compared reports that 98 percent of rents charged in Rockwood are below the regional average.

With these things in mind, The Outlook continues as a strong advocate of the Rockwood Rising project as the next step in breaking the concentration of poverty and helping residents move forward into a more prosperous future.

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