By Megan McMorris
The corner of NE 74th and Glisan St. has been the talk of the ‘hood – and the subject of bar bets at the watering hole across the street – as of late.
Covering one block from 73rd to 74th, the former site of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is prime real estate that could make or break this eclectic stretch of NE Glisan.
It’s a street informally known as Auto Row, where new shops, restaurants and breweries are sandwiched between auto repair shops, old-time neighborhood barbershops and ethnic stores.
It’s a mixed-class, mixed-raced slice of the neighborhood already teetering in perfect balance, where any decision could tip the scales of the street. Understandable, then, that eyeballs (and theories) are directed that way.
During a recent Montavilla Neighborhood Association meeting, rumors were finally put to rest as Metro unveiled what’s been happening behind the scenes all along. In partnership with the Portland Housing Bureau, Metro has acquired the property in order to build 120-150 units of affordable housing and PHB will choose a developer in late spring.
“Metro is proud that the 2018 voter-approved affordable housing bond and associated partnerships resulted in projects such as this one, contributing to the region’s supply of affordable housing,” says Choya Renata, Metro’s community engagement manager.
She was speaking of the $652 million bond earmarked for permanently affordable homes for seniors, working families, veterans and others in need.
“The housing built at this site will bring over 100 affordable homes to an area where immigrants, low-income people and others are being pushed out by the gradual effects of gentrification,” she adds.
The project is in its early stages and will likely take several years, during which the community will have an opportunity to provide their vision through a variety of future neighborhood meetings.
A recent Metro survey allowed respondents to vote on preferred use of outdoors space, suggestions for possible ground-floor tenants and other areas by March 1.
In the meantime, Metro has arranged a two-year lease (begun in November ’20) with the African Youth & Community Organization (AYCO). Founded in 2009, the organization provides services such as tutoring for e-learning, rental assistance, a multi-use athletic center, food and community kitchen, conference room, office space and mental health and social services.
Founder and Executive Director Jamal Dar, a Somali refugee himself, calls the new center their Dream Center. It is an expansion from their previous SE 122nd Ave location.
Their aim, says Dar, is to purchase space in the ground floor once the developer is in place, but nothing is yet set in stone.
“This neighborhood is a hub for the African population and it’s within walking distance for many of our clients, so that’s why we’re hoping to purchase space on the ground floor; at least that’s our plan for now,” he says.
Dar credits being athletic himself as a youth (he had track and field scholarships to both USC and UCLA) with affording him more opportunities in life, which is why AYCO has an athletic-based emphasis.
“Soccer, for example, is a universal language,” says Dar, who emigrated to America at age 16. “Playing sports is always what has motivated me and helped me to keep on the straight track.”
AYCO’s motto: “Settle the past, engage the present, and hope for the future” is something he considers often when he weighs the responsibility he’s taken on.
It keeps him going when the dying mother gives his organization custody of her children after she’s gone on or when desperate parents call for help with their drug-addicted son. “They call me Uncle Jamal,” says Dar, a father of eight himself.
“Sometimes, I have no answers myself, and I don’t know what to do, but the only thing I can say is yes, because these people are trying to fulfill the American dream and are falling through the cracks, so that’s why we have to exist,” he says.
“It’s important for these kids to have role models that look like them, who understand what they’re going through as refugees. And there’s nothing I won’t do for these kids.”
To find out more about AYCO and to get involved or donate, visit aycoworld.org.
Photo by Megan McMorris