Priced Out: 15 Years of Gentrification in Portland Oregon
Directed by Cornelius Swart (2016)
As of 2015, Portland was the most “gentrified” city in the US. The term “gentrification” describes the large scare displacement of African Americans from their traditional inner city communities. It typically occurs when city authorities create significant amenities in Black neighborhoods to lure white residents back from the suburbs. This new trend reverses a 100 year process in which whites migrated great distances to avoid living near Black people.
Growing demand from white professionals for inner city homes, leads to exponential increases in house prices and rents that make homes unaffordable for low income African Americans.
In Portland the first area to be gentrified was Albina, a neighborhood just Northeast of downtown Portland. During the fifties and sixties, it was a thriving Black community with flourishing Black-owned businesses where most residents knew one another. In the 1970s, as manufacturing jobs moved overseas, economic conditions in Albina tanked and criminal activity increased.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Portland city authorities began investing in Northeast Portland by building a light rail service and funding various redevelopment projects. More than 1100 African American homes and scores of Black businesses were demolished for an Interstate hub, a sports stadium, and a major hospital complex that was never built. At the same time, city authorities enacted a ban against landlords renting to federal Section 8 subsidy recipients.
The mass displacement of Albina’s Black residents reached its peak after the 2008 economic crisis, which resulted in an epidemic of subprime mortgage foreclosures in many low income communities. Ironically the current house price bubble means the majority of white working class residents are also being displaced from Portland. At present 49% of Portland residents live in rental housing, and half of them spend more than one-third of their income on housing.
Fortunately since 2013, there has been significant organized resistance to continuing gentrification. It’s now the number one issue for city government. In 2015, activists forced Trader Joe to withdraw from a city-subsidized scheme to demolish yet more rental housing for a huge shopping complex. The same year, city authorities passed a right to return law, ending the ban on Section 8 housing and granting former Albina residents preferential access.