By Don MacGillivray
The Portland Development Commission (PDC), created in the 1958 by the voters, is one of the most powerful and controversial public entities in Portland.
Originally charged with renewing deteriorating neighborhoods with the intent of providing decent homes and suitable livings for every family, over the years its philosophy has changed.
The Housing Act of 1949 emphasized a national commitment to a decent home for every American family and beginning in 1958, immense clearance and replacement projects were the norm.
In the 1970s and ‘80s preservation and revitalization efforts were the trend. Then beginning in the 1990s public / private partnerships and contemporary urbanism became the standard.
In 1960 Portland, the South Auditorium District (110 acres south of SW Columbia St., north of Lair Hill, west of the Willamette River, and east of PSU) was selected to be the first major urban renewal development. After years of neglect, the vital immigrant energy of this district had dispersed to the suburbs.
Many residents were elderly, low income renters often living in dilapidated housing. It was Portland’s most run-down neighborhood and Urban Renewal could remove all of the 232 businesses and 1,575 residents.
By 1963, it’s 54 blocks were bulldozed.
South Portland was a vibrant diverse ethnic community that was home to many Italian, Jewish, Chinese, and African- American residents. South Portland was also considered a den of a crime and juvenile delinquency, with many urban problems.
A strong sentimental attachment for the neighborhood remained for many, especially to those who had grown-up there. Most outsiders felt urban renewal would improve this deteriorating area. A Property Owners Committee was formed to protest the plan, but they had little influence in the decisions.
A second urban renewal site was chosen in 1962. It was the historic center of the city of Albina on the east side that was to become the location of the Memorial Coliseum and Emanuel Hospital. This was most upsetting to the African American community living in the area as they were forced to move to other housing and losing much of their historical community.
At about the same time Portland was selected in 1966 as one of 63 cities nationwide for the Model Cities Program.
This would provide federal assistance to improve the remaining sections of the Albina neighborhood, but many of the inner SE neighborhoods were equally in need of help.
Then in 1968, SE Uplift was created by PDC and they, along with Portland Action Communities Together (today’s IMPACT NW) helped organize neighborhoods for next eleven years until ONA consolidated all the neighborhood associations under the city.
The qualifying neighborhoods could suggest improvements to their districts using the federal revenue sharing funds.
Portland’s use of urban renewal has undergone a considerable transformation since the 1990s. The property tax measures caused great uncertainty and this changed the financial dynamics of urban renewal.
In 2007, voters passed a charter amendment referred by City Council. It increased Council oversight and involvement in PDC’s budget process by requiring an annual public hearing, and ensuring that the City Auditor’s authority would conduct financial and performance audits of PDC.
The Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) was formed in 2010 by combining PDC’s Housing Department with the city’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development. PHB will build affordable housing with 30 percent of the urban renewal dollars in each district.
Since its creation in 1958, PDC has overseen 14 locally- funded Urban Renewal Areas. Three have been completed and all debt retired, and three no longer issue debt through bonds.
The eight active URAs are Central Eastside, Gateway, Interstate, Lents, North Macadam, the Oregon Convention Center, the River District (the Pearl), and the Willamette Industrial District.
Borrowing authority for the active URAs ranges from a high of $489.5 million in the River District to a low of $105 million in the Central Eastside.
There are six newly-created Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative (NPI) districts. The collective maximum indebtedness for these six districts is only $7.5 million.
These districts are in areas with higher concentrations of communities of color and low-income residents. PDC works with local business owners and community members to revitalize commercial districts in those areas with the Neighborhood Economic Development (NED) Leadership Group.
Urban renewal efforts have contributed significantly to Portland’s success. Notable projects include: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Forecourt Fountain, Pioneer Courthouse Square, various transit lines, the Portland Aerial Tram, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, and the Memorial Coliseum.
Recently Portland’s urban renewal districts have gone through perhaps the greatest change in their 56 year history. These changes should provide Portland, Multnomah County and Portland Public Schools with additional property tax revenue for general fund and education expenditures.
The greatest change was the elimination of the Education District around the campus of Portland State University. One third, a 35 acre portion, was added to the North Macadam district. An additional ten acres was also added to North Macadam and the deadline to issue debt was extended by five years until 2025.
The debt limit for the Central Eastside district was increased by $21 million and the borrowing deadline was extended by five years. The size of the district was also increased by 16 acres to include the area around the new Clinton light rail station.
PDC now has the overall responsibility for economic development in the city of Portland. There is a wide array of additional organizations that play critical roles in the improvement of both the downtown area and Portland’s neighborhoods.
As long as PDC continues to have an economic impact on the future of Portland, it will be a significant public agency.