Above: Powellhurst resident Mark White is building a food cart in front of his house on Southeast 122nd Avenue. The cart, called "South of Holgate," is expected to open this spring.
Below: High-density townhouses along Southeast 122nd Avenue. Residents hope zoning changes bring more businesses to the area.
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
For a glimpse of what East Portland might look like in the future — and to understand why public officials and community organizers are rethinking traditional redevelopment strategies there — start with the fact that outer eastside neighborhoods are disproportionately poor and ethnically diverse. According to the 2010 census, 7,700 African Americans have moved out of inner North and Northeast Portland in the past decade, many moving to East Portland. Thirty percent of area residents are nonwhite, up from about 10% in 1990. About 80% of the kids enrolled in the area’s David Douglas School District qualify for free and reduced lunch, nearly double the percentage in Portland Public Schools.
These demographic trends are driving changes at the Portland Development Commission, says Patrick Quinton, the agency’s executive director. Historically, PDC has invested urban renewal funds in large-scale downtown projects such as the Pearl District or South Waterfront. In 2011, however, the agency shifted gears, creating six micro-urban renewal areas in lower-income eastside commercial districts known as “Neighborhood Prosperity Initiatives.” The goal, Quinton says, is “to grow businesses in East Portland and improve the economic fortunes of communities of color.” Accompanying the agency’s geographic shift is a philosophical change, says Quinton. “We’re focusing on people and businesses, not buildings and places.”
As the (modestly funded) prosperity-initiative districts take shape, local nonprofits are also doing their part to boost low-income and minority business ownership in the outer east side. A case in point is the Latino Mercado, a $1.6 million year-round farmers market-style venue that will open in 2014 in a renovated car dealership on Southeast 72nd and Foster near the Lents Urban Renewal Area.
A partnership between PDC and the Hacienda Community Development Corporation, the market will be staffed by graduates of Hacienda’s food-incubator program, which teaches eligible residents how to operate food businesses. According to Nathan Teske, Hacienda director of community development, the Mercado will allow low-income Hacienda residents to start up businesses relatively cheaply while helping to revitalize the languishing Foster commercial corridor. The current plan calls for each vendor to sell over $200,000 by the fifth year of operation.
Another capacity-building project, this one in the Lents Urban Renewal Area, borders on groundbreaking: a community real estate investment trust (REIT) that would allow low-income residents to invest in real estate. An initiative of Mercy Corps and Rose Community Development, the REIT is an innovative twist on a wealth-building tool typically reserved for the affluent. The goal is to recruit about 300 low-income renters in the Lents neighborhood, who would then invest about $100 a month to purchase a commercial building, then lease storefronts to rent-paying businesses.
“We think it’s pretty exciting both as an asset-building and antipoverty approach and a way to bring commercial investments into neighborhoods like Lents,” says Sauvie. As the REIT grows, investors could purchase additional properties. Organizers are creating a curriculum for potential investors, and the program is expected to get off the ground sometime this year.