The African Youth & Community Organization says it had hoped to be selected to redevelop their headquarters on 74th Avenue and Glisan Street.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: DANNY PETERSON - African Youth & Community Organization Executive Director Jamal Dar, second from right, gathers with the nonprofit's participants and staff during a Bike Town Hall on Saturday, Sept. 18. A nonprofit serving immigrants and refugees is now facing displacement themselves — after their proposal for an affordable housing project got the thumbs down from city officials.

Their home — a satellite-festooned low-rise that formerly hosted a Christian broadcaster on Northeast 74th Avenue and Glisan Street — is slated to be redeveloped as affordable housing.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: DANNY PETERSON - African Youth and Community Organization's logo sits above the signage for a Christian broadcasting station that formerly occupied the site. "We don't know where we're going, but we have to leave," said Executive Director Jamal Dar, who founded AYCO 12 years ago.

The Portland Housing Bureau has selected Related Northwest, a privately held New York based real estate firm, and several other local service providers, including Catholic Charities and Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, to redevelop the 1.65-acre plot at 432 N.E. 74th Ave. into a two-building complex with 137 units of affordable housing.

Dar isn't surprised that their headquarters is slated for demolition; but he's shocked that his own proposal to transform the property — made in conjunction with REACH Community Development Corporation, Colas Construction, Community Vision and El Programa Hispano — wasn't selected by city officials.

Dar said his blueprints would have provided more affordable housing, 141 units to be exact, and created the Dream Center, a permanent home for AYCO and its 14 staffers to continue providing mentorship, education, health, social and disability services, rental assistance, and other programming to Somali and East African youth and families from across the Portland area.

"We're questioning the process," Dar said. "We want to prevent the drugs, the youth violence. We want to educate the kids and build future leaders."

Martha Calhoon, a spokeswoman for the Housing Bureau, said five proposals for the site were subject to a "two-step intensive review process" overseen by Technical & Financial Feasibility and Community Review committees.

"AYCO's (proposal) ranked third based on the criteria and parameters set forth in the solicitation," said Calhoun, adding that Housing Director Shannon Callahan had called Dar on Oct. 11 to schedule a full debriefing.

The building itself is owned by the regional government, Metro, and Portland Housing Bureau says it will tap $19.5 million from its share of the 2018 regional housing bond to help build the $56 million project.

In a statement, Metro officials called AYCO "a wonderful partner" and said they hoped to continue collaborating with the nonprofit, someday in their new Dream Center.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: DANNY PETERSON - AYCO Executive Director Jamal Dar (center) gathers with the nonprofit's supporters, including Rep. Khanh Pham (cyan jacket), Sen. Michael Dembrow (red jacket) and Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (neon green jacket), alongside the East African immigrants and refugees that AYCO serves on Saturday, Sept. 18."We are sympathetic that this is a disappointment, and hope AYCO will be able to find a permanent home," said spokesman Nick Christensen. "Metro has been clear with AYCO, throughout the process of temporary leasing and community engagement, that the project/developer selection process would be a competitive one."

Related NW touted their winning bid for the Montavilla neighborhood development, which will feature an on-site cafe and barista training program led by Humble Pie, and small business mentorship by Mercy Corps NW.

A company spokesperson said Related NW is a women-led team "with deep ties in the local community."

Their project will add 41 units of permanent supportive housing and 96 units of low income housing for families, with a focus on domestic violence victim, immigrants and people of color. The company has six projects in the Portland area featuring partnerships with Central City Concern, Boys & Girls Club, VIBE PDX, EngAGE and HomePlate.

AYCO moved into the center in November 2020 after it signed a two-year lease with Metro. Now, Dar says they're serving some 2,000 people a month and have invested too much money in new equipment and supplies to simply walk away come next November.

In a news release, AYCO said their plan for a Dream Center inside the new affordable housing complex is supported by a number of local Democrat lawmakers, including state Reps. Khanh Pham and Barbara Smith Warner and state Sen. Michael Dembrow.

"It's just this relentless system that we live in, targeting the underserved, the Muslim, the Black, and immigrant and refugees," said Dar. "It's the same old, same old."

Zane Sparling
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