“Ownership allows us greater ability to advance community wealth building initiatives and helps us to exercise greater collective influence about what else happens in the district.”
— Winta Yohannes, Albina Vision Trust
Albina Vision Trust (AVT) has taken a major step toward the dream of restoring a historic Portland neighborhood. Calling it a “huge milestone,” the nonprofit announced today they’ve partnered with Edlen & Company to develop an affordable housing and community theater project in the Lower Albina district.
The new seven-story building will be located between North Flint and Wheeler avenues on what is currently a parking lot behind the Paramount Apartments (circled above). The project will create 120 units of affordable housing for families who make 30 to 60% area median income (which is about $70,000). According to a statement from AVT the adjacent theater, “Will anchor the district as a place for artists, creatives and youth while connecting the future of the neighborhood to its rich cultural heritage.”
That’s a reference to the vibrant neighborhood that used to exist in lower Albina before it was bulldozed in the late 1950s as a result of racist urban planning and the construction of Interstate 5. When we first reported on AVT in 2017, Board Chair Rukaiyah Adams called the area, “ground zero for the discussion about equity and history in Portland.”
This is not just about real estate, the project gives AVT a “physical and spiritual ownership stake in the district,” says today’s statement. “Wealth created by this project will be held held in community ownership and we can now think about how those resources go back into the community,” AVT Executive Director Winta Yohannes said in an interview with BikePortland yesterday. “Ownership allows us greater ability to advance community wealth building initiatives and helps us to exercise greater collective influence about what else happens in the district.”
“And because now we can envision more people living there,” Yohannes added, “How does that influence our decisions about transportation, education or any number of other policy conversations that are happening in the district?”
Through a statement, Adams also spoke about the importance wealth generation through the built environment and the, “re-rooting of Black people” in Lower Albina. “We aim to thrive, not just survive,” Adams said. “And it begins with this project.”
The planned theater is a clear example of that “aim to thrive”. According to Yohannes, “As creative organizations and artists continue to be priced out of the city, it was important for us to anchor Lower Albina’s rebirth with the theater – in recognition of both the cultural history of the district and of our aspirations for its future as a district truly for the people.”
The tension between an area designed for people versus one designed around an interstate freeway is at the crux of AVT’s ability to achieve their vision.
Looming over this project is the Oregon Department of Transportation’s I-5 Rose Quarter project that plans to spend nearly $800 million to widen the nearby freeway and make a host of surface street changes. AVT pulled their support of that project in June 2020 because they didn’t approve of ODOT’s direction and didn’t trust that the agency would take their feedback seriously.
While AVT has pulled their support for the I-5 project (and has no plans to come back to the table), they had to negotiate with ODOT on this development. That’s because the building will be constructed where ODOT had planned a new street and overpass. Current plans from ODOT include a new road that would bisect the parking lot and go across I-5 between Hancock and Dixon. It’s unclear how ODOT will change their proposal to accommodate the AVT development, but the agency has signed off on it.
The owners of the parking lot are Rich and Betsy Reese. Betsy Reese also happens to be a veteran transportation activist who you might recall from BikePortland stories over the years. AVT’s Yohannes said this project would not have been possible without Reese’s commitment to the vision. Reached for comment, Reese said she began conversations with AVT and Edlen & Co. a couple years ago. She said ODOT has worked out an alternative design that won’t interfere with her parcel. “ODOT said that if AVT and the City were ‘OK’ with the change, that they were ‘OK’ with it,” Reese shared. “I’m so relieved that the shadow of that [ODOT] plan on the drawing board won’t diminish or delay the building of our affordable housing project as soon as possible.”
The new building is expected to be completed by August 2023.
AVT recently held a community design workshop to help garner feedback about what other spaces in the district should look and feel like. For the past three years we’ve had to close our eyes and imagine the possibilities. Today’s news gives us a much more tangible vision.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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