Portland: Interstate Corridor

Janitorial shop

Floyd Booker, 85, has owned a janitorial service in northeast Portland for over 50 years.

Northeast Portland is home to a conglomeration of neighborhoods that comprise the African-American community. The Interstate Corridor is a stretch of roadway that connects these neighborhoods, and is the site of the Yellow LRT line. The main commercial corridor is Williams Avenue, which was the heart of the Jazz and Soul music scenes in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Northeast Portland has been experiencing significant demographic changes since the late 1990’s.  For example, the population of the Woodlawn neighborhood was 33% white in 2000, which increased to 53% in 2010.  At the same time, the African American population decreased by the same magnitude. Further, the businesses along the Corridor have since changed to reflect the demands of the new neighborhood demographics. 

map of Portland's Yellow LineTri-Met, the regional transit agency, completed its first LRT line in 1998, and sought to expand based on its initial success.  Named the Yellow line, the extension’s alignment was planned to run along the existing Interstate Corridor. The initial plan was voted down by the city of Portland; however Tri-Met discovered that the residents of Corridor itself wanted the line to be constructed. The agency responded to this community input by creating an urban renewal area (URA) to finance the LRT line, which allowed for the line to bypass local funding and be matched by Federal grants. Created in 2000, the URA funded $28 million of the $350 million project cost.  The Yellow line opened in 2004, and connects downtown Portland to Portland State University, also acting as a catalyst for redevelopment in the area. 

gentrification in Portland

It's a white world now, Margaret Solomon, 84 said. "You go there and they're sitting around with their bikes and out on the sidewalks and all that. It's rough to imagine." Resident of Northeast Portland for 40 years.

The URA created several subsidized loan programs for businesses and new or first-time homebuyers. An unintended consequence of these financing mechanisms was the impact on the African-American community.  The increased feasibility of redevelopment coupled with the existing gentrification resulted in significant impacts. For example, the median home price increased over 100% in each of the Northeast neighborhoods between 2000 and 2010. This increase resulted in more than one-third of all households paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and 17 percent paying more than 50 percent. The subsidized loans were intended for all residents; however 56% of the money available from the Portland Development Commission’s homeowner and homebuyer assistance program went to white residents. Thus, homeownership became unaffordable to the existing African-American community, who then relocated to southeast Portlandor outside of the city. The existing business community along Williams Avenue changed to reflect the demands of the new residents, which meant that the African-American serving businesses followed the residential exit. Today, the neighborhood is described by realtors as a “newly revived area that is one of the hippest places to shop, dine and drink.” 

View a slideshow depicting the gentrification experienced by the community and the feelings of long-term residents.

An article about Portland’s Restorative Listening Project aimed at informing White people about the effect gentrification has on long-time African-American residents.

The history of Alberta Street, a main commercial street running through the Northeast Area is available here.

Map of the Portland Light Rail system.

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