By David Krogh
Ever since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May, there has been an increase in awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement and groups calling for racial equity reform. Two recent webinars focused on racial discrimination and housing equity which directly relate to Portland.
In January, the Fair Housing Council of Oregon (aka FHCO – fhco.org) held a webinar discussing the history of racism in Oregon. Although there are existing laws promoting equal access and making discrimination illegal, that’s not how things got started in Oregon.
Samuel Goldberg, Program Assistant, said white pioneers flocked to Oregon after the Oregon Treaty of 1846. Then in 1850, the Oregon Land Donation Act gave land grants to pioneers, but only white pioneers.
In the meantime, over 60 Oregon Native American tribes lost 80 percent of their populations due mainly to epidemics brought by the pioneers.
A territorial ban of Blacks was initiated in 1849 and was subsequently incorporated into the Oregon State constitution in 1859; an exclusion not removed until 1927 that paved the way for racist deed covenants being used in Portland up until recently.
Chinese citizens faced similar treatment although they were initially welcomed into the state to work on railroad construction, mining and farming. They were subsequently excluded from further entry in 1882, with a repeal taking place in 1945.
The 1920s saw a rise in Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activity in Oregon with 58 separate groups at one time that included Oregon Governor Walter Pierce (1923-27) as a supporter.
In the 1930s, realty groups and mortgage lenders created maps with red lining that identified neighborhoods dominated by Black and other ethnic groups. These maps were used to restrict lending to residents in those areas while at the same time, served as a resource for developers who wished to pick up lower-valued properties for redevelopment.
FHA home loans were established in 1934, but because of discriminatory actions, fewer than two percent of home loans were issued to nonwhites by 1962.
During WWII, Japanese Americans west of Hwy. 97, were interned and lost all of their ownerships. At the same time an influx of about 20,000 Black people, mainly from the South, arrived for shipyard and other jobs in Portland. They lived mainly in the Vanport and Guilds Lake areas at the time.
After the Columbus Day Storm of 1963, many Black citizens left the area or moved into North Portland. Gentrification and highway construction since then have caused the displacement of several thousands.
After Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968, stronger anti-discrimination laws were passed promoting equity, although they have not been equally applied.
In January, Smart Growth America, (smartgrowthamerica.org), offered three webinars focusing on racism and equity in the US. Moderated by CEO Calvin Gladney.
He said political leaders for many years did not consider racial equity as part of their actions and this included gentrification and displacement, bans on multi-family housing, highways through poor and Black neighborhoods, etc. He called on policy makers to change their mindset and movement.
Dr. Andrew Perry, author of Know Your Price, spoke about policies that have historically devalued housing in Black neighborhoods by 45 percent or more, depending on the city. Similarly, Black businesses have not been given the same opportunities for loans and assistance as have white businesses.
Perry is encouraged by President Biden’s executive order promoting equity and strongly urges citizens to support local minority businesses.
An additional problem Dr. Perry brought up is that of tax burdens. He gave Detroit as an example where property values declined dramatically for Black owners but County Tax Assessors did not re-assess the properties to reflect the loss in value.
Subsequently, the owners were still paying high property taxes while their properties lost value. This has led to many foreclosures and is common in several cities.
Dr. Perry encouraged community involvement, especially as part of budget proposals in order to better address disparities. Leaders need to be listening to the public and budgets need to be balanced with equity in mind.
For example: instead of large police budgets, how about a focus on neighborhood stabilization and affordable housing?
The third day of this webinar series focused on the legacy of racism in transportation. Dr. Destiny Thomas, CEO of Thrivance Group, stated emphatically that much of transportation planning is racist in nature.
Historically freight routing, highway development and even bicycle and pedestrian routes are often developed without consideration of neighborhood make-up or quality of life. The push for density in urban centers is creating overcrowding to the point of developing its own forms of equity and quality of life problems.
Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America, stated that transportation and infrastructure projects need to include an equity assessment that both talks and listens to neighborhoods rather than ramming through an agenda that adversely affects equity with potential racist outcomes. Too many urban renewal projects result in “urban erasure” due to a closed eye to equity.
Moderator Calvin Gladney summarized, saying transportation is not a silo issue. It is part of a comprehensive analysis of housing and quality of life, etc. Infrastructure projects need to address all of these or equity will not be achieved.