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Rockwood designation could transform the area

City, county pledge to cooperate in the underserved area as they angle for federal grants

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN - Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, left, and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury sign a joint Promise Zone proclamation Tuesday, Nov. 25, at the Rockwood Public Safety Facility. The city of Gresham and Multnomah County say they are ushering in a new era of cooperation with a joint federal application for a Promise Zone designation in the Rockwood neighborhood.

At a Tuesday press conference to announce the Nov. 21 application, Mayor Shane Bemis said the new status “would obviously not solve every problem, but it could align federal resources with direct local needs.”

The program, launched by the Obama Administration in January, gives communities assistance with applications to federal grants programs in 35 different areas.

The application for the area that has often been underserved required the cooperation of 24 organizations.

Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury said the area east of Portland and west of downtown Gresham has a complex jurisdictional arrangement.

“It’s kind of been nobody’s responsibility. But we’re kind of saying: ‘No, it’s everybody’s responsibility,'” Kafoury said. “Through this process we made a commitment to each other and to the residents of Rockwood.”

Bemis said this new sense of cooperation is critical as gentrification continues in inner cities, like Portland.

“For the first time in American history, poverty is moving to the suburbs all across the country,” he said.

First in the state

President Barack Obama announced the Promise Zones Initiative in his 2013 State of the Union address. The first round of five urban communities awarded with the designation were in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Multnomah County Senior Grants Coordinator Sheri Campbell said she is highly confident this is the only application for such a zone in Oregon. The application will have to win one of six 10-year spots in this round of designations by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD will make a total of 20 such designations across the country by 2017.

To qualify to be a Promise Zone, the city said the community must have a poverty rate at or above 33 percent, must include a population between 10,000 and 200,000 residents and have the support of local leadership.

The area in the Promise Zone application is bounded in the north by Interstate 84 and on the south by Division Street between Northwest Birdsdale Avenue and Southeast 182nd Avenue.

'Gravy train'

But for all the fanfare at the announcement, the application could still fail.

Even if the application is successful, there is no “gravy train of money,” as Bemis said. The Promise Zone comes with a federal liaison to guide applications to competitive federal grants, preferential points for those grants, and five AmeriCorps VISTA workers to recruit and coordinate volunteers.

The proclamation signed by both Bemis and Kafoury, however, pledges a commitment above and beyond the Promise Zone project.

The Gresham mayor said that for a long time the city felt like it had to remind Multnomah County that the county extended past Southeast 82nd Avenue in Portland.

“You still have a responsibility in Gresham,” Bemis would say. But he feels like the relationship is changing.

“It’s really about the beginning of a much more coordinated effort between the city and county,” Kafoury agreed. “Even if we don’t (win a Promise Zone designation), I think we’re going to see big changes in this community.”

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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