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'Next wave' swamps east side

City study points to troubled future for working-class areas


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Neighborhoods between 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205 are considered vulnerable to gentrification, in part because the Asian-oriented Jade District is attracting residents to the area. As Portland’s hip and groovy image persists, along with our reputation for a fine quality of life, gentrification is spreading to new and sometimes unexpected places.

Lents, for example.

A few blocks from the city’s lone Walmart — known for its blue-collar clientele — homebuilders are knocking down small cottages on large lots and erecting multiple two-story homes in their place. That means fewer starter homes or affordable rentals in the area, and more large houses priced $100,000 to $150,000 more than what they replaced, says Cora Potter, who has observed several demolitions a block or two from her house on Southeast Holgate Boulevard and 86th Avenue.

It’s not the stereotypical gentrification of white newcomers replacing African-Americans, Potter says. It’s often Asian immigrants looking to buy new houses for multigeneration families near the Jade District, the cluster of Asian groceries, restaurants and other services along 82nd Avenue and spreading both directions on Division Street and Powell Boulevard. In a single block of 87th Avenue just south of Holgate, Potter can point out at least seven houses, or more than half the neighbors, who are Asians.

Though the Lents neighborhood leader likes the increasing ethnic diversity, Potter says the negative effects are similar to what gentrification brings elsewhere: displacement of longtime residents and lost affordable housing.

Modest one-story, 800-square-foot homes are being torn down rather than rehabbed, replaced by two- and three-story houses of up to 2,400 square feet.

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“When you’re a renter who needs a yard for your big dog, the market for small rental houses is drying up,” Potter says.

Though she holds a white-collar job, she and her husband can’t afford the new homes popping up in their neighborhood.

Lents isn’t Portland’s only working-class neighborhood experiencing early signs of gentrification. A recent city-commissioned study charted, for the first time, several parts of town vulnerable to gentrification, and areas where it’s already occurring. The study was a wakeup call for those hoping to avert the negative side of gentrification.

“The historical record (of cities dealing with gentrification) is that public policy is too late, and the cow is out of the barn by the time they do something,” says Nick Sauvie, executive director of ROSE Community Development, which provides affordable housing in the outer east side.

Using data on changing demographics and real estate prices, the study’s authors found vast tracts of lower- and moderate-income neighborhoods are ripe for gentrification. Those include broad swaths south of Powell Boulevard and between 82nd Avenue and Interstate 205, the area north of Mount Tabor and parts of the Montavilla, Cully and Portsmouth neighborhoods.

“The risk is,” says city planner Tom Armstrong, “they could be in the next wave.”

Potter, the land-use chairwoman for the Lents Neighborhood Association, has witnessed people being priced out of the South Tabor and Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhoods to the west in recent years. That led to an influx into Lents and the Foster-Powell neighborhoods.

Now Lents and Foster-Powell are ripe for gentrification.

Earlier in his career, Sauvie did community development on the inner east side, and saw how the spruced-up Hawthorne Boulevard and Belmont Street business districts spurred neighborhood revitalization and spiking housing prices.

“I think Foster is next,” Sauvie says.

A pending city transportation project is expected to slow traffic on Foster. The focus is to “make it less of a freeway, a little more on being a Main Street,” says Christian Smith, chairman of the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association.

The Portland Mercado, a Latino-themed marketplace featuring restaurants, food carts, a community kitchen and entertainment, is planned for a mid-2014 launch on Foster and 72nd Avenue.

Those changes follow a series of other improvements sprouted on Foster in recent years: new restaurants, a bar, a coffee shop and comic book store; urban renewal-financed storefront improvements and commercial developments; and a farmers market at 92nd Avenue.

Smith, who bought his house in 2005 and manages a bar on Hawthorne, is emblematic of the younger, hipper, community-minded people moving into Foster-Powell. You can see more young families strolling local streets and gathering for neighborhood barbecues, and more children trick-or-treating on Halloween, Smith says.

The key will be to keep improving the area, he says, “but not have things explode like they did in other urban renewal areas, like Alberta and Mississippi, where people were forced out.”

by: COURTESY PORTLAND BUREAU OF PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY - Neighborhoods in yellow are seeing early warning signs of gentrification, according to a new city study. Those in magenta are in the dynamic or middle phase of gentrification and those in blue are in the late stages.

82nd Avenue revival

Fritz Hirsch, chairman of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, sees warning signs in his part of town.

“If gentrification means higher-income folks moving in and pushing up prices of real estate, and lower-income folks moving out, yeah, that’s happening,” Hirsch says.

It’s especially strong east of Mount Tabor Park, he says, and close to the Stark Street commercial strip west of 82nd Avenue. A number of restaurants and bars have joined longer-standing attractions such as the Academy Theater, Bipartisan Cafe and Flying Pie Pizzeria.

For a long time in Portland, 82nd Avenue was a barrier that many middle-income homebuyers wouldn’t cross. That’s changing as newcomers arrive, people get priced out of neighborhoods to the west, and 82nd Avenue’s image as used-car row fades.

“Eighty-second is the stepchild that everyone likes to spank and take pokes at,” Hirsch says, but it’s becoming a “foodie mecca” as the Jade District grows.

Another catalyst is the Milepost 5 artists’ community on 82nd Avenue near Oregon Street. That’s a growing hub for art shows, theater performances and, soon, regular comedy shows, he says.

Hirsch predicts the next part of Montavilla to see gentrification pressure is near Northeast Glisan Street, where the city is embarking on another “traffic calming” effort to slow cars. That will help people discover the growing niche of African and other ethnic restaurants on Glisan, he says.

Hirsch, who works for the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, known as IRCO, sees national and international forces at work that render gentrification beyond the capacity of local governments to prevent.

But a recent city study, led by PSU professor Lisa Bates, includes a laundry list of policy suggestions. Bates and others suggest overturning the ban on inclusionary zoning, requirements for mixed-income housing as areas develop. The practice was banned in a provision “snuck in” at the end of the 1999 Oregon legislative session by real estate lobbyists, says Janet Byrd, executive director of the Neighborhood Partnership Fund in Portland.

Affordable housing groups have sought to overturn the ban, but other policies can serve as workarounds, Byrd says. Those include the “30 percent set-aside,” championed by then-City Commissioner Eric Sten, which obligated the Portland Development Commission to spend 30 percent of its tax-increment financing revenue on low-income housing in urban renewal areas. That helped the city subsidize housing in the Pearl and South Waterfront districts.

Another welcome policy recently was enacted by the Oregon Legislature, Byrd says. That bars landlords from refusing to rent to tenants paying with Section 8 federal housing vouchers, a past problem that led to the concentration of low-income tenants in pockets, especially in East Portland.

Sauvie and others advocate for a broader use of land trusts, which acquire homes to make them available as permanent affordable housing. They also suggest more use of property tax-deferral programs, which can help people stay in their homes when prices spike.

Armstrong, who oversaw the gentrification study, says the next task is writing potential remedies into the city’s new comprehensive land use plan, a process under way.

Much of this is uncharted waters, as no U.S. city has prevented the negative effects of gentrification.

But one thing appears clear. Negative impacts are inevitable in many parts of Portland without the intervention of government, nonprofits, enlightened private-sector players and community leaders. If you just allow market forces to take effect, Smith says, more folks will be displaced from neighborhoods.