Emanuel Displaced Persons sound alarm on urban renewal vote
A city plan to get more cash for urban renewal projects has drawn disapproval from residents who say they haven't received true restitution for the demolition of their homes and businesses.
The proposed changes to the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Plan would allow officials to take out another $67 million loan for projects surrounding Interstate 5 — the river of traffic and cement that has riven Portland's historically-Black neighborhoods since it was built in the 1960s.
But some community leaders are pushing back, saying a vote to approve the proposal shouldn't happen without further commitment for restitution for the owners of property that was razed.
"The very tool that was used to destroy the Black community, city leaders are now saying that it's the same tool they are going to use to restore you — it's absolutely ridiculous," said Byrd, the co-founder of the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2, who uses only one name.
If approved, the Portland Housing Bureau says it will spend some $45 million on affordable housing developments aligned with the N/NE Neighborhood Housing Strategy, which prioritizes retaining current residents and returning those who were previously pushed out.
Prosper Portland, formerly known as the Portland Development Commission, would get the remaining share of the money. Its goals include building a cultural business hub for entrepreneurs of color. Also on the table is redevelopment of a 1.7-acre block along North Russell Street and Williams Avenue that was demolished in the 1970s to make way for an expansion of Emanuel Hospital that never happened.
"They love to talk about these things as if they are in the past. It's not in the past. We have the Red House to remind us this is an ever-present situation," said Byrd, referring to an ongoing eviction defense on Mississippi Avenue.
In a letter to Byrd's group in May, Prosper Portland pointed to the Emanuel Replacement Housing Agreement it signed in 1971 with members of the first iteration of the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association, saying the deal promised only 180 to 300 units of public housing. The Portland Housing Bureau has created almost 2,500 affordable housing units since the urban renewal area was established, per the letter.
"The delivery of low- and moderate-income units in this area, while not delivered with the federal funds originally anticipated, has been accomplished through activities by the Portland Housing Bureau, Prosper Portland, and the Housing Authority of Portland," according to the letter signed by Prosper Portland Executive Director Kimberly Branam and chair Gustavo J. Cruz, Jr.
Shawn Uhlman, a spokesman for Prosper Portland, described the urban renewal amendment as extending the status quo and pledged it would not increase property taxes. He said archival records show the development agency tracked the names of displaced property owners within the urban renewal area and "suggest the federally required payments were made to these individuals."
"We are in the process of seeking to confirm each case," Uhlman said. "While we cannot condone the creation of the Emanuel Urban Renewal Area or demolition of homes within the district, we believe that the agencies complied with this agreement."
The urban renewal plan was first adopted in August 2000 and has been formally amended 12 times before. It relies on tax increment financing — a promise to pay back the debt using the increase in property taxes spurred by the urban renewal projects.
The proposal at City Hall would increase the cap on debt by 20% — to $402 million — and push back the repayment date to the end of fiscal year 2024. Officials with Prosper Portland, Multnomah County and the city's Planning and Sustainability Commission have signed on as well.
"The increased investment in new affordable rental housing and home ownership opportunities, in conjunction with the N/NE Preference Policy, will help reverse the legacy of displacement that has disproportionately affected Black households in North and Northeast Portland," said Eli Spivak, chair of the planning council.
Byrd recalled in a phone interview how her grandparents' tavern and family home on Fargo Street were demolished during the decades when condemnation took place.
"I was born into this issue," she said. "And I don't want to move forward without a carve-out for impacted families and members of EDPA2."
After a first reading of the amendment on Dec. 16, the Portland City Council will vote to approve or reject the proposal on Jan. 6.
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