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Report: City action could reduce some neighborhood gentrification

by: COURTESY OF THE CITY OF PORTLAND - A map included in a new city report shows neighborhoods that have been gentrified, or are in danger of gentrification.Portland’s eastside neighborhoods south of Powell Boulevard and between 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205 are among those likely to face future gentrification pressures, according to a new study.

In the city’s first serious stab at addressing gentrification — displacement of lower-income residents and local merchants as a neighborhood grows more desirable — the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability commissioned a study by Portland State University Urban Studies Professor Lisa Bates that maps out vulnerable neighborhoods and suggests possible remedies.

Addressing gentrification will remain a daunting challenge, says Tom Armstrong, supervising planner. But now “we have a better handle on the when and where” it will occur, Armstrong says.

Portland has already witnessed a large-

scale displacement of African-American residents from their longstanding base in inner North and Northeast neighborhoods. Other communities, such as Laurelhurst, have long been enclaves of mostly upper-income people.

As the city grows and remains a magnet for educated 20-somethings, city planners hope to avoid more displacement of longtime residents and merchants.

Bates mapped the city, using Census data, to identify areas of highest risk for gentrification. Usually those are lower-priced neighborhoods located near areas that are seeing home prices spike, Armstrong says.

The map identifies areas of inner Southeast, Northeast and North Portland where gentrification has already taken place or is under way.

The report suggests the city may be most effective at addressing areas that show warning signs of future displacement, such as areas south of Powell or east of Mt. Tabor.

One key finding is that most of Portland east of I-205, while home to an increasing number of low-income and minority residents, faces little gentrification pressure.

It’s “probably not a short-term worry there,” Armstrong says. “What this is telling us is that we need to make more investments in community improvements in East Portland without worrying about gentrification.”

More changes ahead

Planners vowed to address gentrification while drafting the Portland Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for future changes in the city. The issue also came up when the city made a concentrated effort to improve the Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland, a long-neglected part of town with a diverse ethnic population, mostly homeowners.

“The challenge with all of this is how to balance neighborhood improvements and community revitalization,” Armstrong says. “By virtue of making those investments, they become more attractive places to live.”

As neighborhoods improve and experience an influx of newcomers, there can be a “second wave” of change, when longstanding residents sense the neighborhood is no longer right for them. “It’s changed so much, it no longer meets their needs,” Armstrong says.

The same can be true of local institutions and shops.

Few cities around the country have managed to stem gentrification, which is often governed by market forces beyond a city’s control.

For example, some of the recent displacement of African-Americans in Portland stemmed from a surge in predatory mortgage lending in the early-2000s. When the housing bubble burst, a disproportionate number of African-Americans were unable to pay spiking interest rates on their loans and faced foreclosure.

An uphill battle

Bates’ 95-page report, commissioned for an estimated $13,000, includes a laundry list of ideas to counter gentrification.

In general, the report suggests the city view many of its improvement projects through a “racial/ethnic equity lens.”

The report suggests the use of community impacts reports, which assess how a big project might change an area.

Inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to build a variety of housing for different income groups, is another oft-suggested remedy to combat gentrification. However, Oregon statutes now ban inclusionary zoning.

The city also might use education campaigns and technical assistance. Armstrong likens it to the city’s green building efforts, which were initiated by the city but became widely adopted in the private sector.

One of the things the city hopes to avoid is what has occurred in large swaths of San Francisco and other cities, where residential areas are made up of high-income or low-income residents, with little in-between. The city wants to retain mixed-income neighborhoods.

In many respects, it’s an uphill battle. New York City has observed what some call the “Friends” or “Sex in the City” phenomenon, where images from popular television shows cause a major influx and changing complexion of a neighborhood.

In Portland, Bates’ report notes, that may be occurring in part due to IFC’s wacky take on the city in the TV show “Portlandia.”