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Church move underscores larger population shift
by: SARAH TOOR, Highland Christian Center moved last year from inner Northeast Portland, where it had historically drawn much of its congregation, to a larger building in the farther-out Montavilla neighborhood. Many parishioners, it turned out, had already migrated east in search of more affordable housing.

When the Highland Christian Center church moved from Northeast 18th Avenue and Alberta Street to Northeast 76th Avenue last August, Richard Johnson, its executive director, said some viewed the four-plus mile commute as a long way to drive.


For years, the black community that made up most of the church's parish had successfully done business along Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard without straying more than a half-mile east or west of the road.

But after the church relocated to a larger building farther out on Portland's east side, Johnson said the move accommodated an unexpectedly large part of its membership: people who had already moved east for more affordable housing.

'I personally was surprised how much of our congregation is living east of 82nd Avenue,' Johnson said. 'We're seeing a great number of our membership of people moving to Gresham and Troutdale.'

That trend, and the migration of low-income people to areas like Hillsboro and Vancouver, Wash., is something housing officials in Portland first saw documented in the 2000 census and now view as a daily challenge to doing business.

The agencies are struggling at times to provide services for, or even find, low-income people as they have scattered.

The phenomenon is forcing the city of Portland to change how it does business, shifting the affordable housing strategy away from redeveloping impoverished areas of the city, and instead focusing on helping the poor - wherever they may live - improve their circumstances.

Programs now are less about improving geographic areas, which, instead of helping people, tended instead to encourage gentrification.

The Portland Development Commission, through a requirement passed last fall by the City Council, now must spend 30 percent of the money it raises in urban renewal districts on affordable housing within each district, an effort aimed at reversing the trend of low-income people flowing away from inner Portland.

City Commissioner Erik Sten said the policy is the first of its kind in the nation.

'What we're basically recognizing, with a pretty major policy change at the council level, is that when areas get fixed up, people get pushed out,' Sten said.

Pattern makes a pastry

Susan Stoltenberg, executive director of Portland Impact, a nonprofit that works to help low-income people, called the migration pattern 'the doughnut.'

Pointing to a map developed by the Coalition for a Livable Future, another Portland nonprofit, she said it 'shows how poverty moved from the core and is going in all directions.'

Based on census data, the map shows that between 1990 and 2000, poverty concentrations shifted outward in the metro region.

Places where the amount of people living in poverty decreased most were in North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods like Woodlawn, where the number of people living in poverty dropped 40 percent between 1990 and 2000, and King, where the number of people living in poverty dropped 24 percent during that time.

In contrast, the biggest increases were in places like Gresham's Rockwood neighborhood, where 2,110 more poor people were living in 2000 than in 1990.

Comparable poverty population increases occurred in north and central Vancouver, Beaverton, and a section of Southeast Portland.

Recent data on free and reduced-price lunches at schools shows a distinctive trend of low-income families, whose children qualify for the federal lunch program, moving eastward in Multnomah County.

In 1999 and 2000, the areas where the most students received free or reduced-price lunches were in North and Northeast Portland. More than 75 percent of public school students received the lunches in those areas.

By 2004 and 2005, many more areas of Gresham, Rockwood and areas south of Rockwood in Portland had more than 75 percent of public school students receiving free and reduced price lunches compared with several years before. St. Johns also saw an increase in the number of schools where more than 75 percent of the students received free and reduced-price lunch.

Stoltenberg estimates that hundreds of families have moved out of the city's core since the last survey. Data tracking children through schools shows some have moved from the Portland district to Vancouver schools and schools farther west in Washington County, such as Cornelius Elementary.

Stoltenberg said as low-income migration draws families with children away from Portland, school districts outside the area are tested, even as Portland schools close.

Portland Impact recently moved its facility for seniors and disabled people from Southeast 46th Avenue and Belmont Street to East Burnside Street and Northeast 100th Avenue.

'Poverty doesn't really live in the Hawthorne area anymore,' Stoltenberg said.

People, not money, move

Jean DeMaster, executive director of Human Solutions, also a nonprofit serving low-income people, believes Multnomah County's poor are living in the highest concentrations in Rockwood, an area in east Multnomah County that was halved and annexed by both Portland and Gresham in the mid-1980s.

While the low-income populations may be moving, she said, government money intended to help those populations is not.

Based in east Multnomah County, Human Solutions serves a growing number of people living in poverty in that part of town.

The most affected area, from her perspective, appears to be east of 148th Avenue in Portland, crossing into Gresham at 162nd Avenue and continuing to about 202nd Avenue.

In Rockwood, now defined as the portion annexed by Gresham, DeMaster said many people are forced into unsafe, substandard housing where absentee landlords fail to check criminal backgrounds or keep up on repairs.

In some areas, she said, as many as 10 people may be living in two- and three-bedroom apartments and homes.

The challenge for service providers like Human Solutions, DeMaster said, is that distribution of funds for low-income populations is based on the 2000 census.

DeMaster and others are pressing Multnomah County to look at updates of those numbers so the money goes where the need is.

She questioned why neither Portland nor Gresham has taken ownership of Rockwood's problems and why both cities are putting urban renewal money into places like the Pearl District and Gresham's Old Town instead.

That question goes to the heart of policy changes at Portland's Bureau of Housing and Community Development, where trends in funding are moving away from geographic areas and more toward populations.

'What we had seen by the statistics was that as the physical nature of neighborhoods was changed, the people who lived in them who had been poor historically were still poor and they were either having to move out because of changes in the real estate market or they were staying in place because they were still poor,' said Lynn Knox, economic opportunity program manager for the bureau.

As the migration continues, Knox said, the bureau has clustered services around natural groupings of people rather than in certain areas of town.

Its programs now include training for women in trades, metals training for immigrants, a culinary training program for the mentally ill, a program that helps people develop home-based day cares and a program that teaches trade skills to young people as they build low-income housing and finish high school.

Some move many times

Meanwhile, lower-income populations need a place to call home.

Novena Dougherty, a parishioner at the Highland Christian Center, has moved alongside Portland's trends for several years.

She first moved from North Portland to Vancouver, then to east Portland for affordable housing.

Dougherty, a mother of three, uses Section 8 rental vouchers. As rents rise, she said, Section 8 payments stay flat, forcing families to travel to where landlords still take the vouchers.

Officials say the sale of so many homes in North and Northeast Portland has left few rental properties available, and many don't take Section 8. Some properties no longer qualify for the program as costs rise.

In another year, Dougherty plans move from her current home when the rent goes up. Her landlord, she said, kindly allowed the extra year at the same rent so her oldest child could finish high school before the move.

'I feel blessed by Section 8 because (without it) we would literally be under a bridge,' she said.

But she said incremental rent increases are forcing frequent moves or the possibility of fitting her family of four into smaller and smaller spaces to stay in the same area.

Linda Isadore, also a parishioner at the Highland Christian Center, said it's hard to imagine how inner Northeast Portland, long the home of Portland's black community, is now a place where many blacks can't afford to live.

She remembers when drugs and crime were so bad in the area that two people were murdered outside the church in its old location near Northeast 18th and Alberta. She also remembers seeing the changes come, when people started walking at night.

'They didn't think about improving Northeast Portland until they thought about making it a downtown area,' she said.

As the area becomes whiter, cleaner and wealthier, Isadore said, 'You can't call it completely racist, you know what I mean? But you can call it convenient. … I never thought it would come to a time when I would yearn for Northeast Portland and couldn't be there.'

Isadore, who now lives on Northeast 130th Avenue, said she works harder to see friends, driving longer distances. Many stay connected through the church.

As housing prices continue to climb, the challenge for the City Council will be in countering redevelopment efforts with housing projects like those now required in urban renewal areas.

Commissioner Sten also said he plans to locate affordable housing near schools with low enrollment to boost funding and ease crowding issues in low-income areas.

'I would never even ever try to argue that the problem isn't severe. It is,' Sten said. 'We are responding, and I'm hopeful that over a longer period of time we can turn these trends around. I think in the short term, it's a runaway market and we're not going to turn them around. I don't believe it will always be a runaway market.'

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