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PORTLAND TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONAHAN HOUSE - Charles Adams chats as workers build a new wheelchair ramp on his Northeast Portland home, part of a new city program to help longtime residents keep living in their neighborhoods.“It’s a wonderful thing. I can’t get out of my house. They’re saving me,” says Charles Adams, who is 68 and disabled.

Work is underway on a new city program to help homeowners like Adams, in gentrifying parts of town, remain in their homes.

Last Wednesday, workers were building a wheelchair ramp and replacing siding on Adams’ house in the 5200 block of Northeast 15th Avenue.

Adams was born and raised in Portland. As a child, he survived the Vanport Flood that destroyed all the homes of Portland’s largest African-American community at the time.

“They were washed away like matchboxes. I was mad at my father because he wouldn’t go back and rescue my goldfish,” he remembers.

Adams has lived in the Northeast Portland house since 1981 and says the repairs should enable him to stay there until he dies.

“After that, my children will have it, and I hope they keep it so they will always have a house in the city,” he said.

Adams could not afford the $9,500 the city is spending on his house. When his insurance company threatened to cancel his homeowners’ coverage, he contacted REACH, a Portland nonprofit whose Community Builders Program repairs around 200 homes a year so their owners can continue living in them.

Adams’ house needs much more work than REACH can usually afford, however. But this year Portland Housing Bureau made $400,000 in repair grants available through the North/Northeast Neighborhood Housing Strategy — a five-year, $20 million program approved by the City Council last year to ease the ongoing threat of displacement in inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods.

“Mostly we do smaller projects, but the grant money is allowing us to do a number of larger projects now,” says Molly Luft, REACH’s housing rehabilitation supervisor.

All homeowners currently enrolled in the program have lived in their homes for at least 25 years. According to REACH, 82 percent are African American. They will receive up to $9,500 worth of repairs to help them retain homeownership of their home.

REACH plans to repair 12 homes with a $110,000 grant, including the one owned by Adams. The full list of work needed on Adams’ home is extensive. In addition to installing the wheelchair ramp at front entry and replacing the siding, it includes: replacing a failing water heater, replacing a broken storm door, repairing chimneys and installing chimney caps, repairing a fence, demolishing a failing garage, and repairing cracks on the front walkway and driveway.

REACH can do all this work for $9,500 because some of its construction partners are donating labor and materials. They include J.W. Underground, which installed the foundations; Cudahy Lumber, which donated the lumber; and Bremik Construction, which built the ramp.

Albina Construction replaced the siding, and Reliant Plumbing replaced the leaking water heater.

The $20 million strategy is being financed with tax increment finance dollars generated by the Interstate Avenue Urban Renewal Area. The money will go for a variety of purposes, all of which are intended to help longtime residents stay in their neighborhoods or residents who have been displaced from them return.

Major components include: $3.2 million for low-interest home repair loans; $800,000 for home repair grants; $2.4 million to help first-time homebuyers; $2.6 million to create affordable ownership homes; $4.5 million to create affordable rental homes; $3.5 million to redevelop one or more publicly owned affordable housing property; and $3 million to buy land for future development.

City officials admit the $20 million is not enough to completely mitigate the effects of gentrification in North and Northeast Portland, however. Many older homes have already been bought for renovation or demolition and replacement with more expensive houses or apartment buildings.

The block where Adams lives is an example of this change. Just one house away, workers were putting the finishing touches on a new, large contemporary residential infill project.

The council is considering a number of other programs for creating more affordable housing, including a tax on new developments that increase housing costs. The council is also supporting a bill to be introduced by Democrats at the 2016 Oregon Legislature to eliminate the statewide restriction against allowing developers to include a certain number of affordable units in their housing projects.

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