SW Corridor rich with economic and cultural diversity

News Article
As we prepare for a new light rail line along Barbur Boulevard, immigrants and vulnerable communities must not be displaced.

Imagine you had traveled thousands of miles to get here, all your belongings with you. You searched for people familiar with your culture and found a community in SW Portland with a place to worship and a grocery store that reminds you of home. You live in an apartment building full of people who speak your language, dress like you and worship the same way. Your children are comfortable in their local school. You scrimp to pay the rent, but you’re willing to live with others to make ends meet.

Then, your apartment building is sold, and you and your neighbors are evicted, your family is uprooted, your children have to say goodbye to friends, and you don’t have enough savings to pay first and last month’s rent in a different, more expensive apartment building down the road ... farther away from your place of worship with friends and community.

Some version of this has been the reality for many of Portland’s communities of refugees and immigrants for generations. But, who knew the risk of displacement could be so high in Southwest Portland?

Housing by the numbers along the SW Corridor

The housing data for SW Portland when compared to the rest of Portland busts the myth that the area is full of mostly affluent white homeowners:

  • There are 12,000 low-income households in the SW Corridor
  • There is a higher percentage of renters in parts of the SW Corridor than Portland citywide, including East Portland.
  • Parts of the SW Corridor is home to a higher percentage of foreign born communities of color than Portland citywide.
  • Per capita income in parts of the corridor is roughly half what it is for the rest of the west side of Portland.

So, there’s a lot of economic disparity and population diversity in the area. Which means that we should ensure we don’t repeat past harms and push out our most vulnerable neighbors as we prepare for a huge investment in transit along the corridor.

Getting ahead of the light rail line

A new light rail line is coming to the last quadrant of the city without one. To avoid the same mistakes made in Albina and Interstate (where vulnerable communities were displaced from their communities), the City must think ahead and be proactive — before market forces push prices up and people out.

We want to get it right — or at least “right-er” — this time.

Buy low(er), secure affordable housing

The most effective way to create affordable housing is to preserve existing apartment buildings that are already affordable to lower-income households. Another way is to purchase developable multi-family zoned land at current (and lower) prices. Currently, in the SW Corridor that’s roughly $50/square foot, which is significantly less than inner SE and Interstate at $75/square foot. This means developers of affordable housing save on cheaper land and build more cost-effective buildings

The SW Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy includes actions and investments that would get ahead of rising land and property costs. Under the strategy, the cities of Tigard and Portland along with Metro would invest in buildable land before prices spike, ensuring that existing properties would remain affordable. In partnership with TriMet and ODOT, publicly owned land near the future light rail stations will be redeveloped as mixed-use affordable housing.

The strategy also calls for collaboration between the local government and transit agencies (Portland, Tigard, Metro, TriMet and Washington County) and affordable housing providers, renter advocates, community groups and residents to ensure renters and other vulnerable populations have a bigger “toolbox” to protect themselves, their families and their communities from displacement.  

The cities of Tigard and Portland both recently voted to adopt the housing strategy.

Unregulated affordable housing in SW Portland

Some of the best low-cost market rate housing in the city is in SW Portland. There are more than 11,000 unregulated affordable units in the corridor, which are typically older and cheaper apartment buildings. But that makes them easy targets for investors, especially as they consider the economic opportunities that come with new infrastructure investments. 94 percent of recent multi-family building sales in the Southwest Corridor have been these lower cost apartment buildings, which are subsequently “flipped” or upgraded and put back in the rental market at higher rents.

Investments in a new light rail line in the SW Corridor will build out complete communities in the area – places where people have easy and walkable access to stores, parks, schools, transit and other amenities that people need. But they won’t be complete if some of Portland’s most vulnerable populations are pushed out by rising costs of living.

But it requires a strategic and coordinated effort ...