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Portland's population of color moving to the east

Neighborhood shifts could continue as housing prices climb
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Brandyn Cain plays basketball in the driveway of his family's  
outer Northeast Portland home. Many blacks have been relocating from inner North and Northeast Portland to East Portland, a large swath of the city east of 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205.  

Portland-bashers who pan the city for being 'lily white' apparently don't set foot much east of 82nd Avenue.

Nearly four in 10 East Portland residents are now people of color, compared to about one in four for the rest of the city, according to a Portland Tribune analysis of 2010 Census data.

The black population more than doubled since 2000 in 25 of East Portland's 32 census tracts, while the white population fell in 24 of those tracts.

Many blacks have been priced out of the gentrifying neighborhoods of inner North/Northeast Portland that are the heart of the city's traditional black community, and a large number lost their homes to foreclosure. There's also been a surge of African immigrants in East Portland.

East Portland's Latino and Asian populations grew even more swiftly in the past decade. One in seven East Portland residents is Latino, and one in nine is Asian. Both population blocs are twice the size, proportionally, in East Portland as they are in the rest of the city.

'We feel like it's a really unique part of Portland because of the increased diversity,' says Nick Sauvie, executive director of ROSE Community Development, which operates affordable housing projects in outer Southeast Portland. The diverse mix is an asset as the entire nation becomes more multicultural, Sauvie says.

But the rapid demographic shift under way in East Portland poses challenges on several levels.

'It's important that diversity doesn't mean all low-income people move together in East Portland,' says Ronault 'Polo' Catalani, manager of New Portlander Programs for the city of Portland. 'Those are neglected neighborhoods. I don't think that's the diversity goal people have in mind.'


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Black Diaspora

The dispersal of Portland's black community could result in lost political clout, says Midge Purcell, director of advocacy and policy for the Urban League of Portland.

'There aren't significant enough numbers to have the same kind of influence in terms of representation as the African-American population had in North/Northeast Portland,' Purcell says.

Blacks forced from inner North/Northeast Portland left behind community anchors, such as black churches, social connections, barber shops and salons, Purcell says.

In East Portland, some black parents complain there aren't many sidewalks, so they are reluctant to let their kids play outside, she says. Grandparents often are too far away now to provide day care. 'There is a real sense of isolation in these areas,' Purcell says.

The Urban League is adapting. It recently opened a small satellite office on Northeast 117th Avenue near Holladay Street.

'It's an acknowledgment that our community is no longer solely located in this area,' Purcell says, from the Urban League's main office on North Russell Street and Williams Avenue. That building is located in Portland's once-bustling black business district that was leveled in the early 1970s to make way for a planned expansion of Emanuel Hospital that never occurred.

Refugees head east

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, a large Portland nonprofit, faced a similar issue a decade ago. In 2001, the organization closed its inner-Southeast Portland office near Burnside and Sandy Boulevard, and moved into a larger office on Northeast Glisan Street near 103rd Avenue.

Oregon ranks as the 11th-largest state in the nation for the number of refugees it accepts and places into communities, says Abdiasis Mohamed, community development specialist for IRCO's Africa House. The largest concentration of those refugees is in East Portland, not far from the organization's offices.

Partly that's a function of the cheaper housing available there for newly placed refugees.

'Because their stipends are so small when they come, we try and place them farther and farther out,' says Margaret Malarkey, IRCO's community and donor relations director.

Mohamed estimates there are now 20,000 African immigrants in Oregon, with as many as 5,000 living in East Portland and Gresham.

Before 2000, there were pockets of African-Americans in a few neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue, such as the Parkrose area, Purcell says.

But during the last decade, new black residents moved into areas where there were few black faces before. In a sense, gentrification of inner North and Northeast Portland led to integration of some parts of East Portland. In seven East Portland census tracts, the black population more than quadrupled.

East Portland grew much more rapidly than the rest of the city, accounting for 44 percent of the city's overall population growth. Most of that occurred south of Burnside, an area that underwent rezoning, Sauvie says.

East Portland now is home to 28 percent of the city's population. but it has a disproportionate share of the city's young families. It's now home to 37 percent of the city's school-age children, according to a new report by the Portland Bureau of Transportation called East Portland in Motion.

The data will be used to prepare grant applications and gauge community support for improvements to sidewalks and other infrastructure.

Purcell says the city needs to focus more on improving East Portland, which she describes as a 'much-neglected area.' She expects the displacement of blacks from close-in neighborhoods to continue.

'I think there is going to be a further move out of North/ Northeast Portland, because people can't afford to live there,' she says. 'I don't think we've seen the end of that trend.'