Search Google Appliance


News

The Oregonian: Portland study targets neighborhoods next up for gentrification
Author: Anna Griffin
Posted: June 24, 2013

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

The men and women who pushed urban renewal in the 1980s and '90s now say they should have known better.

They should have known that government-sponsored revitalization in North and Northeast Portland would push long-time working-class and African-American residents to far-flung neighborhoods that lacked parks, sidewalks, paved streets and other basic services.

Planners and politicians did a lot of guessing, and some of the adverse unintended consequences of gentrification took them by surprise. Today, nobody can claim ignorance. So Portland leaders are trying to do a better job predicting where neighborhood improvement risks pricing out anyone who isn't white, well-educated and wealthy.

A new study commissioned by Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability identifies neighborhoods on the verge of, or in the process of, gentrifying. It's the kind of computer modeling and demographic analysis developers and big retailers use all the time to decide where to build. For government, it's a new tool to pinpoint spots that might need extra attention to preserve economic and cultural diversity -- and it comes with a set of suggested policy steps that could help.

"Revitalization and gentrification don't have to go together," said Tom Armstrong, a supervising planner. "The market will do what it will do, but we can play a part in trying to minimize the negative impact on people."

City analysts started by identifying census tracts with higher populations of poor people, those with less education and ethnic minorities -- all groups at risk of being driven out of hot real-estate markets. They overlaid demographic trends with housing data. Places with large at-risk populations and comparatively low home prices are likely spots for gentrification, particularly if they bump up against neighborhoods that have already tipped white and wealthy.

Some of the potential hotspots planners identified are predictable to anyone who follows real estate: St. Johns is a hip destination for young families and creative types seeking a grittier vibe. Northeast Portland 'hoods such as Boise, Eliot and King are growing more upscale as urban renewal spreads out from Mississippi and Alberta.

Some might surprise you: Montavilla has been shifting from blue-collar to a broader mix for several years now; the study predicts that transition will travel south down 82nd Avenue into Lents and Powellhurst-Gilbert and west along Powell Boulevard into Foster-Powell and Creston-Kenilworth.

"You have all these people moving here from other places," said Lisa Bates, a Portland State University assistant professor who wrote the report. If I'm a newcomer, I don't have these preconceived notions about 'Felony Flats' or 'Oh, Powell Boulevard.'"

Residents of Cully have long complained about being victims of benign neglect, left to fend with unpaved roads, spotty street lighting and few sidewalks. Census data suggests the neighborhood is transitioning -- on the verge of gentrifying -- along with neighboring Sumner.

That small Northeast Portland community, tucked east of 82nd Avenue and west of Interstate 205 in the wedge between Columbia and Sandy boulevards, has seen hints of change: In a 2009 neighborhood association survey, a third of Sumner residents said they'd been there for more than 20 years. Another third had arrived within the past five.

Less tangible signs of gentrification haven't arrived yet.

"We don't have a grocery store. We don't have a coffee shop," said neighborhood association chairman Scott Somohano.

One area that didn't pop out when planners ran the numbers: East Portland. The neighborhoods east of I-205 share some symptoms neighborhoods at risk of gentrifying: Property values remain low compared to the rest of the city, for example. But rather than rising, education and income levels have dropped in the past decade. Those trends suggest the opposite of gentrification: The creation of ghettos.

The goal among planners and politicians today is a Portland in which everyone enjoys the same quality of life regardless of zip code, and neighborhoods that possess a healthy mix of ethnic groups, ages and income levels.

Achieving that will require more than just more information. Now that they've pinpointed specific spots where gentrification is likely, city leaders must adopt new policies to fight displacement there, Bates said.

She came up with a menu of suggestions based on steps other cities have taken, and planners say they'll talk with City Council members about which ones to incorporate as part of an ongoing update of the city's Comprehensive Plan.

Among the ideas: Using tax subsidies or exemptions to help older, poorer homeowners stay in neighborhoods that become more affluent. Offering financial incentives to developers who include some moderate or affordable housing in new condos and apartment buildings, or who hire a certain percentage of local residents on construction projects. Requiring the regulators who approve new projects to conduct more detailed studies of potential demographic impacts.

"You can't keep everyone from being priced out," Bates said. "But you can make sure that revitalization is done more thoughtfully than it has been in the past."