Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« The Morning News | Eileen Macoll Endorses Clinton »

Thursday, May 29, 2008

They’re Doing Something About Gentrification in Portland

posted by on May 29 at 9:24 AM

They’re talking about it.

“I’ve been really upset by what I perceive to be Portland’s blind spot in its progressivism,” said Khaela Maricich, a local artist and musician. “They think they live in the best city in the country, but it’s all about saving the environment and things like that. It’s not really about social issues. It’s upper-middle-class progressivism, really.”

Ms. Maricich, 33, who is white, spoke after attending this month’s meeting of Portland’s Restorative Listening Project.

The goal of the project, which is sponsored by the city’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement, is to have white people better understand the effect gentrification can have on the city’s longtime black and other-minority neighborhoods by having minority residents tell what it is like to be on the receiving end.

So… white liberal guilt is now a public utility in Portland. The article goes on to list some steps guilty white gentrifiers can take to soothe their troubled consciences. Whites moving into Portland’s only black neighborhood—which is rapidly become Portland’s newest integrated neighborhood—need, according to the head of the Restorative Listening Project, to “make the commitment that the harm stops with us.” And how can guilty white gentrifiers do that? By refusing to buy homes in Portland’s black neighborhood? By moving back out of Portland’s black neighborhood and taking their pasty-faced babies and their wide-ass strollers and their overpriced coffee shops with them? Nope.

Once armed with a broader perspective, said Judith Mowry, the project’s leader, whites should “make the commitment that the harm stops with us.” That might mean that whites appeal to the city to help black businesses or complain to companies that put fliers on the doors of black property owners encouraging them to sell.

Oh, gee. Wag a finger at the city and harass real estate companies that approach current property owners in the neighborhood about selling—the same real estate companies that sold you your house. Why not toss in a couple of Hail Mary’s?

You know what? White people in the 60s and 70s that didn’t want to live in racially mixed neighborhoods fled urban areas for the suburbs. It was called “white flight” and guilty white liberals everywhere agreed that white people sucked. Now white people are willing to live in racially mixed neighborhoods and it’s called gentrification and guilty white liberals everywhere agree that white people suck.

Sorry, guilty white liberals, but white people can’t suck for fleeing racially mixed neighborhoods back then and then suck for moving into racially mixed neighborhoods now.

And you have to get pretty far into the piece to get to this detail:

Though the black population has declined in some black areas [of Portland], including Northeast, it has increased somewhat in the city as a whole. Some blacks have left Northeast by choice, moving to other neighborhoods or the suburbs, and some bought and sold property in the area to their advantage.

So there are more black people living in Portland now—although their numbers overall are small—they’re just not concentrated in one neighborhood. There used to be a word for the concentration of blacks in certain areas of cities: segregation. And there was a word for blacks and whites (and people of other races) living in racially mixed neighborhoods: integration. Guilty white liberals used to be opposed to segregation and for integration. What changed?

RSS icon Comments


What has changed, indeed.

Posted by orangekrush | May 29, 2008 9:29 AM

White people living according to their perception of what other races want is the problem.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 9:29 AM

I wonder if we'll ever get it "right".

Posted by DanFan | May 29, 2008 9:31 AM

The same people who think electing Obama makes us "all even-Steven." And who think he's actually black.

Posted by oi vey | May 29, 2008 9:58 AM

ZOMG - I agree with Bellevue Ave. Someone punch him in the face!

Posted by Soupytwist | May 29, 2008 10:04 AM

Poorer people always get pushed aside, regardless of their color. And everyone always wants to buy low and sell high, and will justify that by any means possible. All the hand-wringing does nothing except possibly make some of the gentrifiers feel less guilty about what they're otherwise happy to do; profit at the detriment of others.

Posted by Tiktok | May 29, 2008 10:05 AM

I always felt that gentrification had more benefits than people are willing to admit. As long as middle income housing is still available and not just the million dollar condos like they're putting up here.

Posted by mnm | May 29, 2008 10:23 AM

A lot of the people profiting here, Tiktok, are the African Americans that bought houses in this neighborhood two, three, and four decades ago. They're selling them now for ten, twenty, or thirty times what they paid for them. And good for them.

Posted by Dan Savage | May 29, 2008 10:24 AM


Posted by HURRRRK | May 29, 2008 10:25 AM

Great post. The whole "white flight = bad" and "gentrification = bad" hypocrisy is crazy. It seems the only acceptable alternative is for minorities to start moving into "white neighborhoods". Oh, wait, that's what happening when black families in gentrifying neighborhoods take the money and run to the suburbs. So, what's the problem again?

Racial integration is happening week-by-week, day-by-day, hour-by hour. It's happening faster and faster. Some people still think it's too fast and want to hold onto their ethnic and racial enclaves. Others think it's taking too long (or deny it's happening at all) and want it all done tomorrow. The adults fuss and fight over all of this, while the children look on, mystified.

Posted by Brian | May 29, 2008 10:44 AM

Talking about it is a great way to make you think they care about you before they push you out of the neighborhood anyway.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 29, 2008 10:46 AM

There were some positive things mentioned in the article. For example, White people learned about discrimination in lending.

But yeah, the point should be to fight lending discrimination not feel guilty about who's moving where.

Posted by jonglix | May 29, 2008 11:00 AM

Well put. I agree it's duplicitous. I believe gentrification & integration have value. I don't have an iota of guilt regarding either. My sister, who happens to be black. (She's adopted as I am) wants to live in an integrated neighborhood. Largely for safety. If neighborhoods change, so be it. In Chicago, where I'm from ethnic neighborhoods have indeed transformed from one group or race to another. Gentrification rendered the once ghetto blighted Westside of the city into a beautiful urban corridor. White liberals need to get over this guilt.

Posted by lark | May 29, 2008 11:03 AM

New York's traditionally black neighborhoods, Harlem and Bed-Stuy are incresingly becoming integrated. Harlem. because its a part of Manhattan, is much more white. Some have protested the changes, reluctant to see the history in their neighboorhood disappear.

Posted by MrEdCT | May 29, 2008 11:14 AM

but that's the problem, they aren't 'integrating' into their new racialy diverse neighborhoods. often it begins by finding the new neighborhood not cosmetically up to scratch, new city council codes start to get enforced which add to the economic burden. people who frequent those business are thought to be problematic so they need to pay for police enforcement. community members get put down as thugs, drug dealers, and prostitutes and recieve police harrassment. those old home owners who don't want to move recieve hostile notes when its percieved that their older homes, larger families, more run down cars are perceived as bringind down the tone of the neihborhood...a negative environment is built up and people, often of color leave.

so its a soft racism, and people on the receiving end feel it. and they want people to understand them. not just scurry them off to a new lower income neihborhood where they have to start all over again.

Posted by Jiberish | May 29, 2008 11:26 AM

The best source the NYT could find was Khaela? Ain't that girl from Olympia by way of Anacortes? Straight ghetto all.

Posted by hohoho | May 29, 2008 11:27 AM

You might be happy to know that Alberta still has some affordable housing and very little new development. The main strip had about 1/5 of its storefronts abandoned even as recently as a year or two ago. People who are moving into Alberta are generally fleeing the gentrification of the NW and the SE of Portland.

They go to Alberta but they also go to Selwood (which is white) and Brooklyn (which is mixed). As long as the pace is slow and the change is organic, I think the community will survive gentrification.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | May 29, 2008 11:46 AM

I think there's good gentrification and bad gentrification. Bad gentrification creates a segregated, affluent, nearly all-white population and pushes out middle-income, low-income, and ethnic minority residents. Good gentrification adds enough affluent white residents to offset existing segregation without pricing out the existing residents.

Liberals (and everyone else) should support policies that produce diversity in neighborhoods, in every respect. That means ethnic and class diversity but also diversity of building types and ages, diversity of activities and uses (including transportation modes), and non-ethnic forms of cultural diversity.

If we fail to produce liveable urban neighborhoods, discourage diversity, and increase segregation by income or ethnicity, we should feel bad. But rather than simply wallowing in guilt, we need to make sure that we're not contributing to the problem. I'm all for "liberal/white guilt" if it produces action, but if it's just a whiny substitute for doing the right thing, then forget it.

Posted by Cascadian | May 29, 2008 11:47 AM

Dan, sometimes you truly are dense. The problem historically has been that as soon as a neighborhood became "black" in response to white flight, it was redlined: real estate agents stopped showing houses to white people, insurance companies refused to write policies, lenders refused to lend, then city services declined, and the neighborhood went into a downward spiral. Once white folks decided there was value in the neighborhood, all of a sudden, the institutional support for the neighborhood that was completely AWOL while it was black magically reappears: financing, insurance, new parks and sidewalks, etc. And of course, the new residents don't want to patronize the existing black businesses, churches and neighborhood organizations, they want their own, so what few businesses survived are driven out of business. This has been happening for decades. No wonder so many blacks are pissed off.

Posted by kk | May 29, 2008 11:49 AM

Hmmm ... I don't think the problem with gentrification is racial integration or segregation, per se, but rather steeply rising property values. It might work out great for longtime residents who don't mind moving out and cashing in on their suddenly valuable homes, but for those who want to stay, paying property taxes on a house that used to be worth $20K and is now worth $500K might be impossible. That's when people get forced out of the neighborhoods they've lived in for decades.

I wonder if one way to keep truly integrated neighborhoods would be to have some sort of "rent control" kind of thing, but for property taxes. For instance, in gentrifying neighborhoods, property taxes could be restricted to rising only a small percentage each year, even if homes are doubling or tripling in value yearly. Once a home is sold, taxes could be repegged to the assessed value. Wealthy people could move into the neighborhood, but longtime residents wouldn't be financially punished if they wanted to stay. Any cities out there tried something like that?

Posted by A in NC | May 29, 2008 11:51 AM

Nothing has changed. Then, as now, white liberal guilt is a hollow ritual atonement for actions that require none.

White flight in the 70s was a perfectly legitimate response to someone putting your kid on an hour-long bus ride to a dilapidated, overcrowded school, years behind your local school academically and dominated by violent, hostile gangs. Moving away from that is the right response regardless of the race of the kid's new classmates.

And buying a house from someone who willingly sells it to you and then working to improve the aesthetic and amenities of your new neighborhood is also perfectly legitimate, regardless of the race of your new neighbors.

White liberal guilt is a palliative for people who have abandoned religion but still fell the pull of the self-negating religious impulse. They want something akin to Cathloic confession, something that provides expiation without requiring any change in real behavior.

Posted by David Wright | May 29, 2008 12:04 PM

Here's what sucks, Dan.

Once the prohibitions on racial discrimination in housing were lifted, there was no corresponding income redistribution. So racist redlining practices, plus accumulated disparities in wealth from over a century of racial segregation, served to keep most American cities (including Seattle) racially segregated.

The main thing that open housing did was destroy the resistance of white working class neighborhoods (ie in South Seattle) to nonwhite people moving there. Once wealthy white people (not ALL) decided to live in Central and South Seattle, they could drive up rent so that poor whites and nonwhites alike would be forced to "choose" to move elsewhere, mainly out of the city. They would say it was a "natural" process without talking about all the state coercion-- the property taxes and prohibitions on affordable housing that kept people in the neighborhood from controlling it or stopping its gentrification.

Instead of full employment programs, we have a war on drugs. Instead of having a livable city for all, we have a city where condo conversions are increasing rents by destroying supply and where the average home price in many if not most neighborhoods is over half a million dollars. More and more, without a mass base for economic justice campaigns, Seattle's politics are increasingly dominated by wealthy white homeowner "sustainability" projects. The Stranger's news section reflects more than it challenges this shift.

Wealthy white people are making neighborhoods exclusive at the same time that they're "revitalizing" them. Admit it instead of presenting us with these false dichotomies and ahistorical rants.

Posted by Trevor | May 29, 2008 12:11 PM

@20 -- The Central District in Seattle has been historically black for 30 or so years. Many long-term residents here qualify and take advantage of city- and non-profit sponsored property tax relief.

@19 -- Many, many, many people believe The CD was "redlined" in the 70s and 80s.

Many Japanese, Italian and Jewish people would object to calling the CD "traditionally black." It's been "traditionally " since the city was founded.

Posted by six shooter | May 29, 2008 12:13 PM

This is happening in Hilltop here in Tacoma. White middle class families are buying houses all across the Hilltop corridor and the Tacoma lefties(yes there are lefties in Tacoma) are bitching about gentrification. I dont understand how Hilltop could be negatively affected by an increase in median income and home owners.

Posted by CA | May 29, 2008 12:41 PM

@16: "The best source the NYT could find was Khaela? Ain't that girl from Olympia by way of Anacortes? Straight ghetto all."

Olympia by way of Queen Anne Hill, i think

Posted by actually Q.Anne | May 29, 2008 1:00 PM

If you want to freeze property tax increases I suggest you look at California for the effects that can have.

What are the options available regarding property taxes and why are they tied to property value? What would the effects of tying property taxes to income have on the real estate market?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 1:09 PM

Imagine if the entire city was Chinese except Capitol Hill. Then imagine Chinese developers tearing down all the local institutions and putting up Chinese shops. Chinese people start flooding into Capitol Hill and pricing you out of the neighborhood. Now imagine all of Chinese Seattle is too expensive for you so you have to move to Renton where the community is nothing like you once had in Capitol Hill.

More than a little annoying.

Posted by poppy | May 29, 2008 1:12 PM

There's a difference between segregation - forced separation of races - and a neighborhood having a distinct cultural identity. Segregation is obviously bad because minority groups don't get the same access to services. However, isn't it nice to have the International District? Wouldn't we be bummed if House of Hong was replaced by Applebees?

White guilt about both "white flight" and gentrification makes sense because the underlying guilt is about opportunity. That is, those with the financial means have the opportunity to make such decisions. Those without the financial means suffer the consequences, whether its being stuck in a dangerous neighborhood when the money leaves, or being priced out when the money returns.

At risk of sounding like Charles here, nobody can get rich without somebody else getting poor. That's capitalism, and that's why those who benefit feel guilty about it.

Posted by Mahtli69 | May 29, 2008 1:22 PM

poppy, sense of community isn't a right.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 1:26 PM

At risk of sounding like Charles here, nobody can get rich without somebody else getting poor.

Jesus, did Charles really say something that stupid? And somebody else really believed it? Anyone who thinks that doesn't need a introductory economics course, they need to be institutionalized for psychosis.

Take a hint: nearly everyone on the planet is much richer today than nearly everyone on the planet 500 years ago. And we didn't all go rob space aliens to get that way.

People get richer when, motivated by greed, they develop ways to produce more outputs from fewer inputs. That's capitalism, and that's why none of us who benefit need to feel guilty about it.

Posted by David Wright | May 29, 2008 1:44 PM

Mahtli, you'll need to be more specific on how the rich get rich by taking from the poor.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 1:47 PM
People get richer when, motivated by greed, they develop ways to produce more outputs from fewer inputs.

More outputs = more expensive stuff to buy
Fewer inputs = less expensive stuff to make it with.

That's capitalism, and that's why none of us who benefit need to feel guilty about it.

Unless "more outputs" means artificially creating demand by restricting alternative supplies.


Unless "fewer inputs" means cutting labor prices, robbing raw material suppliers, or bribing governments for subsidies or handouts.

Posted by six shooter | May 29, 2008 2:13 PM

Black neighborhoods don't become white neighborhoods unless black homeowners start selling their houses for higher and higher prices, effectively excluding home-buyers from lower socio-economic groups. I'm not saying that black=poor... but the trend is that gentrification happens in poorer sections of black neighborhoods. Greed among the original inhabitants is a big factor.

Posted by robo | May 29, 2008 2:18 PM

you cant get the ball of gentrification rolling without a few uncle toms pushing it.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 2:24 PM

so many people here are assuming that these neighborhoods are made up of homeowners of color. and are selling up and moving out. many people in these communities are actually renters and being priced out.

Posted by Jiberish | May 29, 2008 2:34 PM

@30/@31 - It all comes down to inflation. Look at this.

I didn't mean to imply that the rich actually take cash from the poor. It's far more subtle and institutionalized than that.

Housing is a perfect example. Those who have owned property for a long time have greatly benefited from the rapidly increasing price of housing. Those who do not own property are becoming less and less likely to ever do so.

As property owners' wealth increases, so does demand for "outputs", and the prices increase. Unfortunately for the non-landowner class, wages do not keep up with this price inflation. Keeping wages low is the only way for employers to make a profit (i.e. get rich) in this competitive world.

Throw in globalization, which makes stockholders (the rich) happy as profit margins increase, but makes blue-collar workers (the not rich) unhappy as the number of decent paying jobs decrease.

All I'm really saying is the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And, it's not like I made THAT up (everybody knows Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon coined that phrase). And I certainly didn't think it would be that controversial.

@30 - It's a bit disingenuous to compare the world today with the world 500 years ago (or even 50 years ago). Technology has changed everything (and I'm talking about things like mechanized farming and transportation, not big-screen TV's). The real test is will we better off 50 or 500 years in the future?

Full disclaimer: I'm not saying that socialism is the answer, god forbid. I'm a proud member of the land-owning class and I don't feel guilty about it.

Posted by Mahtli69 | May 29, 2008 2:46 PM

jiberish, why do people who have a contract to live somewhere for a definitive period time have more rights to use the property after the contract has expired than the owner of the property itself?

You'd basically have to convince yourself that right to inhabit an area is guaranteed based on length of time living there, not on a contractual obligation that both parties fulfill.

Theres also the conundrum of allowing people to rent out their property at all if we disallow them from selling the property at all.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 2:50 PM

robo@33: Assuming (as Jiberish@35 notes) that the blacks are in fact homeowners, they often are forced to sell their houses because on fixed or working class incomes they can no longer afford the property taxes and insurance that rising property values bring. Assuming they still have to live somewhere, they have to buy something else somewhat less expensive--usually further out of town. So even though their house may have increased in value, it's not as though they can spend that money. And they've lost their neighborhood. It's farily easy to see how that would create tension in a rapidly gentrifying community.

Posted by kk | May 29, 2008 2:55 PM

@37 - I think Jiberish is just pointing out that people are getting priced out of the neighborhoods they used to live in (you might say, these people are becoming poorer) ...

He/she didn't say anything about landowner or renter rights.

Posted by Mahtli69 | May 29, 2008 3:03 PM

define rich. and to what end do those with more money use that money to do things or buy things that a poor person can't? what are the ways we can measure inequality between rich and poor?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 3:24 PM

@37 -- Bellevue -- The issue isn't about individual rights or contracts. The issue is about social good and social bad.

Posted by six shooter | May 29, 2008 3:24 PM

And I believe we can all agree that quickly disrupting the social institutions and ways of life of a group of disadvantaged people without providing them alternatives is a social bad.

Leave the "you're to blame" and "you're responsible for the fix" out of the equation and think like someone who cares about more than just himself.

Posted by six shooter | May 29, 2008 3:27 PM

and the problem of wealth accumilation being accesable is entirely the result of what people value. if there wasn't such an incentive to own property and if it wasn't a cultural preference of people in the u.s. then the problem of having enough capital to aquire land wouldn't be as much of an issue. the fact that land is scarce would still be a factor but the desire would be less so.

social good and social bad is a very relative concept.

six shooter, Im tackling the rights angle head on because it is integral to finding a resolution that satisfactory to the many parties involved

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 29, 2008 3:33 PM

Nice to see some dialogue on this subject & story. What a surprise once again--it's on the slog--barely nothing on the Mercury blog. What is it about Portland?

Posted by jake | May 30, 2008 5:00 AM

@44 - Maybe people in Portland have jobs

Posted by Mahtli69 | May 30, 2008 6:26 AM

I live in Portland and read Slog because I prefer the writing at the Stranger. Take a look at the Mercury blog sometime.

Posted by JimmyJimmy | May 30, 2008 1:33 PM

All you really have to remember after reading the article is how to spell "dysfunctional."

Posted by rico567 | May 31, 2008 2:17 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.