Learning from Our Past: Stabilization Strategies to Offset Public-Investment Induced Gentrification Caused Displacement

Ideally, Oregon communities are places where everyone lives in a safe and equitable environment, has time for family and friends, recreates and enjoys professional and workplace satisfaction. As planners, we strive to support and cultivate healthy communities that involve many elements, including aesthetics, beauty, accessibility, functionality and community involvement. We also recognize social cohesion and cultural character as vital characteristics in vibrant, diverse neighborhoods that reflect complex communities and cultures.

Community of Practice is a group of concerned students and professionals that met in 2015 to consider how planners in Oregon can help advance the practice of not causing gentrification-caused displacement, particularly associated with public transportation investments. First, we found it was essential to associate the historic and current context of institutional racism and the effect our past dynamics have had on communities of color. We outline approaches that planners in Oregon and elsewhere can take to avoid unintentional displacement and gentrification when considering public investments and policies. In the spirit of learning together, we provide a list of specific strategies that have been successfully applied to fund and support on-going community stability to offset unintentional gentrification induced displacement.  We acknowledge in particular the work of the Anti-Displacement PDX Coalition’s years of work on the City of Portland Comprehensive Plan update, which was concurrent with the Community of Practice study group.


To understand the dynamics of gentrification and associated displacement, it is critical to view our current context through a historical lens. The United States has a history of adopting lofty principles without sound interpretation and follow-through. These patterns go back to our earliest days. For example, in our Declaration of Independence, the new nation’s founders proudly declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”.  Eleven years later, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, only “free persons”, e.g. white people, were considered citizens. Native Americans, Blacks and other minorities were considered only three-fifths persons. Though we have certainly made progress, this disturbing legacy of structural inequality remains today. Without the right to vote, own property and hand down property to their children and grandchildren, attain adequate employment and education, indigenous people and people of color – particularly African Americans and Native Americans – continue to disproportionately suffer the consequences of those early institutionalized decisions. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Code of Ethics requires planners to use best available information and data to address these dynamics in our work today.

The Coalition of Communities of Color, in collaboration with researchers at Portland State University and local community organizations, has produced seven research reports: one that describes communities of color in the aggregate and six community-specific reports to the African, African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American and Slavic communities in Multnomah County. Following are a sample of their findings. (Please see the detailed reports at www.communitiesofcolor.org.)


As a documented example of the dynamics at play in rural and urban Oregon, we know this data to be true. In Multnomah County, overall, communities of color earn half the incomes of Whites. Accordingly, their child poverty levels are double those of whites: 33% compared to 12.5%. Communities of color also have lower birth weights, and educational and homeownership opportunities. From health, wealth and education to parks and nature access, employment opportunities and more, communities of color have ample evidence of inequities. Reversing this institutional, ideological, behavioral and historic racism requires focus, dedication and “long game” behavior.

African Americans

  • Regarding equity (equating to capital accumulation), fewer than 30% of African-American households own their homes, compared to about 60% of White households. African-Americans have experienced housing displacement and the loss of community (approximately 10,000 people in the last 15 years) as the historic Albina District has gentrified. (See detailed history in The History of Portland’s African American Community (1805 to the Present), February 1993, Portland Bureau of Planning, Albina Community.)[1]

African Immigrants and Refugees

  • Household income is half that of Whites, at $32,584 per year, compared with $53,225; for those able to find full-time, year-round work, they only earn $28,888 per year on average while Whites in the region earn $45,087.

Asians and Pacific Islanders

  • Per capita income of Asians and Pacific Islanders is only $22,035; $32,740 for Whites.


  • 50% of Latinos pay 30% or more of their household incomes on rent or home payments, putting more at financial risk.

Native American

  • Child poverty rate is 45.2%, nearly four times higher than the White rate of 14.0%.


  • Access to higher education is limited, with only 25.6% of the adult population holding a university degree compared with 43.1% tor Whites.

As OAPA’s 2011 Distinguished Leader Anita Yap so well described in an Equity review of the City of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan policies:

It is important to not only acknowledge Oregon’s legacy relating to land, but take prominently into account the current disparities and inequities that are a result of government regulation regarding land ownership, land use policies and regulation. We need to take action to remedy these intentional laws that took land from Native Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, African Americans and history that legally denied people of color from owning land in Oregon. We recognize the important role Mexican migrant workers played and continue to play in our agricultural community and how this has shaped our communities today… –Equity Policy Evaluation assessment for the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (2012).

Another valuable contribution to the planning field is Metro Regional Government’s Equity Framework Report published last year.   As a foundation for Metro’s equity strategy program, the agency contracted directly with six community based organizations and Portland State University to identify equity indicators from the community’s perspective.  With ten areas of indicators for assessing equity in community, the report also contains a rich description of the persistent roots of historic and institutional racism that have resulted in many inequitable outcomes today. [2]

On the federal level, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act requires Americans to accommodate all persons – regardless of income, language ability, race or other protected classes from discrimination. However, race-based disparities persist and even worsened, despite the abundance of data telling us what communities of color have expressed for decades, even centuries.


Oregon communities are increasingly becoming culturally diverse, some more rapidly than others.  To avoid unintentional displacement and gentrification when setting community goals and visions in making public investments and policies, particularly in transportation and land use, planners can take these and other steps to promote equity:

Research.  All of Oregon, and our nation as a whole, is on ceded land, dispossessed from indigenous communities.  Identify those that have lived in relationship with the land since time immemorial and your community’s current demographics, including income, education and limited English proficiency (LEP) language sources. Census Quick Facts, the American Community Survey of the US Census, School District and Community Based Organizations hold a wealth of information. (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/, http://www.osba.org/edlinks/districts.htm) Community-verified sources, while less convenient than ACS or Census data, provide greater accuracy.

Get Out and About. Seek cross-cultural relationship building opportunities by going where communities of all races and income levels gather, both mainstream and culturally specific. Listen to formal and informal community leaders, but treat no one as a “token” representative on behalf of their entire community. Be alert to disparities of power, privilege and historic knowledge of and familiarity/lived experiences. Stories are data and should be given as much, if not more, weight than conventional sources.

Follow the Planning Process and Rules. Oregon’s Statewide Planning Goals and Guidelines offer an equitable approach to the planning process. Review your communities’ buildable lands inventory and housing needs assessments.  Does your jurisdiction have a plan to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing? Does your proposed plan have implications that are inequitable with regards to Citizen Involvement, Housing, Economic Development, Natural Resources, Transportation or any investment that does not consider communities of color?

Ensure Results. Before making public investments, ensure that the results that you want will be achieved. Consider some of the following tools:

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Assessment Tool.

The AFFH Data and Mapping Tool is publicly available and also for use by program participants to access HUD-provided data to conduct the fair housing analysis required as part of the AFFH. The Assessment Tool is a series of questions to help local governments identify racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, patterns of integration and segregation, disparities in access to opportunity, and disproportionate housing needs.

The Assessment Tool applies only to local governments required to submit Consolidated Plans as they receive Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG), or Housing for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) formula funds. The National Housing Trust Fund will be added to this list when NHTF money becomes available in 2016. HUD will issue separate Assessment Tools for states, Insular Areas, and public housing agencies (PHAs). (See Appendix B for key features.)

Community Benefit Agreements. Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are flexible tools that can be developed by any number of parties, often with a local government as a key participant. The goal is to help ensure the benefits of public/private investments accrue to individuals who may have been previously underserved.

One example is Metropolitan Alliance for Workforce Equity (MAWE) CBAs that were developed for the City of Portland Water Bureau Kelly Butte Reservoir and the Interstate Maintenance Facility Renovation projects in 2012. The CBA is an agreement among the community, labor unions, and public or private institutions to ensure that workforce diversity and community inclusion are integral parts of project planning and bidding processes for all contractors. “The CBA strengthens our communities, brings fair benefits to all workers and community members, promotes the training and placement of women, people of color and young people, and helps to grow the demand for minority and women-owned businesses”.

Standing Area Advisory Committees. Portland’s Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative model is one example of recognizing diversity in Portland’s landscape. One model NPI is the Jade District (www.jadedistrict.org), which has created its own vision and implementation strategies.. Having supported and standing recognized community-based organizations take a lead in decision-making and investments in their communities is key. It moves us one more bar along the International Association of Public Participation Practitioners’ (IAP2) spectrum from Empowerment, traditionally the most progressive step – to solidarity – working with community based organizations on solutions that they develop and own.

The following strategies and approaches have been successfully implemented in local communities to redirect the course of funding to promote community stability for people of color.


  1. N/NE Portland Historic Resident Preference Policy Approach

On January 28, 2015, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to accept the N/NE Neighborhood Housing Strategy to address displacement and gentrification in North and Northeast Portland. It is a five-year plan to invest $20 million according to the stated priorities of the Community including: preventing displacement, creating new homeowners, creating rental homes and land acquisition with preference given to community residents who have been displaced or risk displacement. Additional information can be found here.

  1. Not in Cully Strategies

Living Cully partners, Verde, Native American Youth & Family Center, Hacienda CDC, and Habitat for Humanity define sustainability as an anti-poverty strategy at the neighborhood level through an “Ecodistrict” model that prioritizes equity instead of environmental performance. In 2013, Portland State University Master of Urban & Regional Planning students worked with Living Cully partners and many other stakeholders from the Portland neighborhood of Cully to develop strategies to prevent displacement of low-income individuals and existing Cully residents and businesses as new investments in to the neighborhood occur. The full report can be found here and background documents accessed here.

  1. East Portland Action Plan (EPAP) Investment Strategies and Advocacy

Recognizing decades of unequitable public investments resulting in lack of access to parks, sidewalks, grocery stores and other amenities, the City created and adopted the East Portland Action Plan. With that adoption, the City Council funded an advocate position as an extension of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement at the request of the residents.  The City-funded role of an EPAP Advocate has proven to be the most instrumental tool in the success of the plan. This individual, Lore Wintergreen, possesses the values and passion necessary to encourage and maintain an energized and engaged community to work towards the implementation of the action items. As a professional advocate, she has the skills and strategy to guide the far-reaching implications of the plan throughout its implementation process.

  1. Powell-Division Community Stabilization Strategies

The Powell-Division Transit and Development Project is a collaborative regional effort to enhance the quality, convenience, safety and efficiency of transit service in the Powell-Division corridor in Portland, while simultaneously working to improve equity and promoting desired development at key station areas.

Improved equity is supported by work that ensures that the enhanced transit service serves communities of color, low-income populations, and youth and elderly populations; and that those communities are not only engaged in the planning and development process but that they benefit from, and are not burdened by the changes that increased investment can bring to neighborhoods and communities.

This plan includes visions, concept maps, visualizations, and actions that set a course for the City of Portland to follow to promote equitable transit-oriented development along the new Powell-Division bus rapid transit line, in coordination with the transit project. The action plans for Portland and Gresham can be found here and here, respectively.

  1. Wealth Building Strategies

Community wealth building strategies focus on creating institutions that support local asset creation, e.g., employers, land, housing and buildings.  These strategies take many forms, carefully detailed in the reports of the Democracy Collaborative  (www.democracycollaborative.org). Community wealth building addresses inequities that exist where profits by corporations are used to create assets not locally owned; where capital leaves local communities to support corporations. Consider what will work in your community. These long term commitments require intentional development and implementation.

A few tools to gain increased local asset ownership include:

  • Employee stock ownership plan companies (ESOPs) that are owned by their workers. An example is Recology in San Francisco, offering services in waste collection, recycling, and composting.  Recology, with more than 2,500 employees and revenues of over $500 million, is 100 percent owned by an ESO.
  • Worker cooperatives are found in many businesses, including fair trade coffee, printing, copy shops, groceries, bookstores, home construction, taxis, and bakeries. By becoming part of the Prospera network of worker-owned cooperatives of house cleaners in the Bay Area, where most worker-owners are Latina women, workers raise their median incomes and keep company profits local.
  • Community development financial institutions (CDFIs ) invest in local projects. In the recent recession, the nation’s 958 CDFIs substantially increased their lending activity. A leading example is the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF), which has more than $138 million in total capital under management. For its innovations in energy efficiency lending, small business lending, and other programs, CCLF earned the 2009 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
  • Social enterprises, primarily owned by local nonprofit organizations. These enterprises are a growing movement in community wealth building. The Social Enterprise Alliance has more than 1,000 members and sixteen chapters in 43 states. One example is the DC Central Kitchen, which offers culinary training and employment primarily to formerly incarcerated individuals. Among culinary graduates, the average prison recidivism rate is only two percent, far lower than the typical rate of 50 percent or higher.
  • Municipal ownership is a major organizational form for electric utilities in the US. There are more than 2,000 publicly owned electric companies in the United States, with total revenues in 2013 of $56 billion. Public power provides electricity to 47 million people. In 2014, the American Public Power Association reported that residential users paid 13 percent less for electricity than users of investor-owned utilities.
  • Hybrids are new ways to create local assets. They include benefit corporations, companies that commit to creating public benefits; and low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs), social mission companies that help attract program-related investments from foundations. There are also more than 1,400 B Corporations, which have passed B Lab’s certification test examining their beneficial impacts. One example is Next Street, a firm offering financial advisory services to urban small businesses and nonprofits.
  • The primary role of Community Development Corporations is to develop affordable housing. There are 4,600 CDCs across the US.  They are an important factor in community wealth building and asset creation.


Planners generally excel at planning, with less focus on monitoring and implementation. We can do better. Our work must be transparent and undertaken in an equitable manner – in the languages and mediums that meet the needs of the public we serve. Additionally, local planning and investment decision‐making processes should be clear, open, and well documented. We recommend a three-pronged approach as follows:

Point Person and Advisors – Individuals who currently or have lived in the communities we serve. They can serve as a bridge between the community and the planners as representatives and/or advisors. (Beware that a singular person does not become the “token” individual.)

Resources – According to the community’s needs, have documents available in different languages and different mediums.  Make it clear that the communities being marginalized by displacement can take a meaningful part in the planning process.

Schedule – A timeline for planners to check in with the point persons and advisors on the status of their projects using SMART goals. (http://www.mytimemanagement.com/smart-goals.html)

In closing, we include the original 11 recommendations of the Anti-Displacement PDX Coalition for the City of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan. These ended up informing more than two dozen policy strategies adopted by City Council in 2016. Consider how to introduce these conversations in your own communities and please, share the results!


11 Portland Comp Plan Policies:

  1. Add equity emphasis to community involvement policies
  2. Strengthen and expand application of impact analysis tool in order to anticipate displacement and housing affordability impact of plans, investments and development
  3. Require mitigation for anticipated displacement and housing affordability impacts of plans, investments and development
  4. Use community benefit agreements as anti-displacement tools
  5. Capture value created by plans and investments as revenue to fund anti-displacement measures
  6. Add emphasis on “permanently affordable” models of home ownership
  7. Use land banking as an anti-displacement tool
  8. Create permanently-affordable housing in market rate developments
  9. Tenant protections
  10. Reconstruction overlay zone (make specific efforts to redress past harms experienced by displaced communities)
  11. Implement anti-displacement measures in City’s mixed use zones


Readings Circulated

  • Equity Planning Revisited:


  • Guess Who Doesn’t Fit in at Work:


  • Overcoming Our Fixation with “Fit”:


Videos Circulated

East Portland Action Plan Anti-Displacement Recommendations: http://eastportlandactionplan.org/sites/default/files/2015.12.07%20EPAP%20Involuntary%20Displacement%20Prevention%20Recommendations%20for%20East%20Portland.pdf

Wealth Building Resources: http://democracycollaborative.org/content/broad-based-ownership-models-tools-job-creation-and-community-development

The History of Portland’s African American Community (1805 to the Present): https://multco.us/file/15283/download

Coalition of Communities of Color, Unsettling Profile Research Series Publications: http://www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org/ccc-dataresearch/

Submitted by Community of Practice members Kirstin Greene, AICP, Jill Statz, Marisa Zapata, PhD, Chip Lazenby, Esq, Beth Shuck, AICP, Bob Wise, Edward Hill, Madeline Kovacs, Jamila Carter, Michelle DePass, Alfredo Gonzales, Cary Watters, Cameron Whitten, Anita Yap and Contributor Cat Goughnour, MSc.

[1] Radix Consulting www.radixconsulting.org.

[2] Equity Baseline Report, Metro, January 2015 – Authors included Scotty Ellis, Jared Franz, Cat Goughnour, Duncan Hwang, Kayse Jama and Andrew Riley. Available online at http://www.oregonmetro.gov/sites/default/files/Equity%20Baseline%20Report%2002-10-2015%20small.pdf


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