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NW Portland is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for rich people

Posted by on April 11th, 2016 at 4:01 pm

northwest portland income

Median household incomes by Census tract.
(2009-2013 data via Census Explorer)

Part of NW Portland Week.

Portland’s glittering Pearl District has about three times as many income-restricted units as the 82-acre New Columbia community in North Portland, Oregon’s largest affordable-housing development.

Sunset riders-2

(Photos: J.Maus and M.Andersen/BikePortland)

To be clear, this fact (first noted by Iain MacKenzie) doesn’t mean the Pearl has more poverty. Many of its 2,379 “affordable” units are targeted to people whose households make about 80 percent of the region’s median income, or $52,950 for a family of three — more or less middle class.

But before we get any deeper into NW Portland Week here at BikePortland, we should bust the myth that because there are many rich people in northwest Portland, there are no poor or middle-class people.

Take, for example, the neighborhood between 18th and 23rd, Burnside and Thurman: 85 city blocks, 6,485 Portlanders. One in four of them lives in poverty. Another 15 percent are in households making $100,000 or more per year. The other 60 percent are fairly evenly distributed in between.

That’s unusual. And the science is extremely clear: if you are going to be poor, a neighborhood with lots of non-poor people is probably the best place to be.

IMG_7940

Fields Park.

For all of Portland’s many deep and unsolved problems, income integration is something our city has actually done better at than most. Maybe that’s why the reality of northwest Portland is hard for so many people to understand: it is simultaneously one of the most desirable parts of town to live and a place where thousands of poor people manage to get by.

This isn’t to deny that east Portland is home to many more people in poverty, and in need of far more investment, than northwest Portland. Those things are true.

And it’s also not to claim that being poor in northwest Portland is pleasant. It can be very unpleasant.

“If you wanted to buy crack, step in human shit on the sidewalk, or line up around the block for services…Old Town’s your best bet,” said Carl Larson, who worked in Old Town for eight years as an employee of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. “When people pull this simplistic ‘Equity = East Portland’ bullshit, they’re forgetting how much suffering and need there is in inner NW Portland. It’s right next to the Pearl but it’s a different world.”

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Where do people who aren’t rich live in Northwest Portland? In buildings like the New Palace, built 1908, which rents 12 rooms at 3rd and Everett for under $481:

Or Gallagher Plaza at 21st and Kearney, built 1981, a Home Forward building that accepts federal housing vouchers to help pay for 85 one-bedroom apartments rented to people making up to half of median income:

gallagher plaza

Or maybe even the Park Regent at Everett and Trinity Place, built 1930, which is currently asking $1,195 for a one-bedroom:

park regent

The fact that poor people are scattered among middle-class and rich people in northwest Portland does not mean the area is just as deserving of investment as any other part of the city. But the false story that northwest Portland is simply a place of privilege has been unduly damaging. It’s been an albatross weighing down Portland’s bike share plans for years. It was the root of mayoral candidate Sho Dozono’s 2008 attack on his rival Sam Adams that put the Flanders Street Bridge — a supremely cost-efficient project that would have had a huge effect on northwest Portland transportation by now if it hadn’t been scrapped under pressure — on ice for the next decade.

Sometimes, it’s possible to help poor people and rich people at the same time. In fact, that’s a big part of what makes income-integrated neighborhoods — like most of Northwest Portland — such a great idea.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Social Engineer
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Social Engineer

Bravo, Michael. Finally some accurate media coverage on the state of socioeconomics in NW Portland.

jeff
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jeff

ah, yes, more with the classism stuff. what’s a ‘rich’ person exactly?

Jason
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Jason

The link for the Census data seems to be wrong, it points to commute time, where clearly the link image shows median income implied.

David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC
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David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC

Should you do further research, take a look at the 1970 & 1980 census for NW. I think you’ll find the population (people, not households) hit the area maximum in the 70s, and has since declined to about 40% of what it was – the highest density and poorest section of all Portland. A bit like East Portland today, a sea of poverty with islands of extreme wealth, which I have no doubt will (again) become the most sought-after area to live in Portland within the next 30 years, as it was, ironically, in the 1970s.

Skid
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Skid

Just going to point out that Social Security Income for someone disabled or a senior citizen is still below the lowest income shown on that map.

Teddy
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Teddy

Is all of Northwest Portland including Linnton included in your definition?

dan
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dan

Wait…paying $1,200 for a one-bedroom qualifies as “poor”? Am I misinterpreting that caption?

Sam
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Sam

I wonder how many people are making 40K in the Pearl. Sure that is median, I’d guess that is the hollow middle with two modes at 80K and close to 0.

tom
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tom

have your readers looked at housing prices city wide recently? the pearl and northwestl = the “rich neighborhood” is kind of a 90s assumption. but nice maps and stats none the less. thanks!

Jennifer
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Jennifer

Actually, the low income units in the Pearl, apart from Lovejoy Statjon, are for people earning 60% of the median income or less.

Beth H
Guest

On a whim, I clicked on the Home Forward link provided in this story.
Surfing the site, I managed to learn that:

1. Based on my current income, I currently qualify for an astounding number of properties listed;
2. In two more years I will also qualify for some properties based on my age;
3. The average wait time for a property whose waiting list is currently closed [not taking new applicants] is around five years, with the shortest being two years and the longest ten or more;
4. Wait lists on every Home Forward property in Portland are closed.

Considering that we have a hard time convincing developers to build new affordable housing — and by affordable, I mean affordable for a single person earning around $15,000 a year, or a couple earning around $27,000 a year — I think we all know how this story plays out.
Anyone who currently lives in subsidized housing is going to stay there until they die. And truly affordable units simply won’t be built fast enough. I don’t see this story ending well, nor do I see ANY close-in quadrant of this city remaining available to the poor for very much longer.
And I don’t see this changing as long as we accept an economy that is based on wealth hoarding, engineered scarcity, overpopulation and unchecked consumerism.