I am a proud resident of Portland and have called South Burlingame neighborhood home for nearly 40 years. I developed bonds with my neighbors during a long, protracted 5-year land use case and was asked to join my neighborhood association in 2018. I then became a board
representative to our District Coalition, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. (SWNI.)
Over the last two years I have learned about the history of coalitions and the deeper history of Portland that
informs and supports the systemic way taxpayers currently fund racism.
The 1924 zoning codes were in part created to protect property values and Zone 1 was single family, which was considered the most desirable. Currently, 74% of total land where housing can be developed in Portland is zoned single-family.
The Federal Housing Administration intentionally discriminated against offering loans to those in multi-family zoning which further prevented those residents the opportunity for home ownership in single-family zones. Multi-family is another way of stating low-income and minority while single-family is another way of stating privilege, white and affluent. In addition, certain city of Portland neighborhoods had well documented racial covenants that also prohibited people of color from owning property in the past.
In 1973, neighborhood associations and district coalitions were formally recognized and
funded by the city of Portland. This action increased the power of neighborhood influence and
access to government. Neighborhood associations, district coalitions and business associations are the only formally recognized and tax-payer funded organizations for civic engagement. These organizations disproportionately support land owners who have a long-term investment and therefore a vested interest in participating. This sets the stage for the formal relationship between Portland's Planning Bureau and neighborhood associations. The Planning Bureau provides land use notices to neighborhood associations and they are the only recognized entity to receive land use fee waivers of $1,000 per appeal.
In 1980, the comprehensive plan expanded single-family zoning and focused density in downtown Portland and inner Southeast. Between 1990-2000 the city continued to expand multifamily zones in Central City, Albina, Outer Southeast, Southwest, inner Southeast, Northwest and Northeast Portland. Albina was
significantly impacted due to a history of redlining, predatory lending, disinvestment and more
than 10,000 African Americans were displaced. However, the Historical Context of Racist Planning: A History of How Planning Segregated Portland states "in SW Portland, residents tended to be well-educated, higher income and typically white." They had the time, money and resources to be "more effective at using neighborhoods associations [and District Coalitions] as a tool for organizing at public hearings and other places for public participatio,n" to impact landuse decisions. The neighborhoods zoned primarily for single-family housing, known as "Racially Concentrated Areas of Affluence" have remained stable and homogenous with low levels of vulnerability to displacement due to the key role they have played in land use decisions for over
Professor Carl Abbott stated, "It is the Black communities who have experienced loss of place which has strained their connection to their cultural history."
The City of Portland is providing $2.6 million dollars annually to the district coalitions that fund
these activities. SWNI has received $3.17 million in taxpayer monies in the last 10 years in spite of many documented recent incidents of equity suppression, overt bullying and racist statements by leadership.
SWNI's leadership does not consider the historical racist practices recently documented by the city to be relevant as evidenced by numerous statements.
SWNI Land Use Committee Chair, Gary Runde stated "...the land use committee elected to not bring the [The Historical Context for Racist Planning] into land use. ...It is just a perspective."
Former SWNI VP John Gibbon stated, "members of the Land Use Committee [will] not view their work from an equity lens ... they have intentionally not done so in the past and will not do so in the future," and SWNI President Leslie Hammond stated "equity is a red herring."
SWNI's structure has historically provided a small group of older, white, landowners with access to government officials and authority to speak on behalf of an entire quadrant of the city on land use planning. Neighborhood volunteers have complained about the single-minded nature of SWNI's Land Use Committee and how unwelcoming it is of alternative opinions.
SWNI has spent years actively lobbying at the city and state against greater density. We know that density means greater access for minorities and I am worried that this lobbying therefore is racist. SWNI is funded by taxpayer monies therefore I can only conclude that the city of Portland is using taxpayer monies to fund racism through SWNI's land use lobbying. The city of Portland auditor recently changed the city lobbying requirements to require any nonprofit that has spent time lobbying to disclose the time spent doing so. This is a greater burden of scrutiny on grassroots organizations that was not applied to district coalitions or neighborhood associations who are exempt by code 2.12.050 as the only exempted organization other than the media; why is this privilege bestowed only upon these taxpayer funded organizations and no other?
The time for change is now. The time for City Council to be accountable and apply equity requirements and oversight to organizations that are funded by taxpayers starts now. Demand the change! Go to www.swno.net to find out more about what you can do.
Shannon-Hiller Webb lives in Southwest Portland and is the president of the South Burlingame Neighborhood Association
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