I recently celebrated my 36th birthday with some friends in an increasingly trendy Northeast Portland neighborhood. The occasion was also somewhat bittersweet, as it was our group’s last hurrah in the Alberta Street area.
My friends have lived on the street for the last eight years. Since then, we’ve seen the historically African-American neighborhood slowly transform over time as gentrification took place.
All of that culminated a few weeks ago, as my friends were given a no-cause eviction notice amid rising rents as Portland and its residents grapple with that city’s affordable housing crisis. One of my friends is actively seeking a place near his new job in Beaverton, another area where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reasonably priced housing.
The other is returning to her native Texas after coming to Portland a decade ago to attend college. Her stints at Portland Community College, Portland State University and Concordia University have culminated in six figures of student loan debt, more than enough credits to graduate, yet no actual college degree from any of those three institutions.
We all watched as more specialized boutique stores opened up in the area and the neighborhood’s traditional identity gradually faded away. A house directly across the street from my friends’ studio apartment was purchased for $110,000, fixed up for another $100,000 and later sold for four times that amount.
A highly publicized gang-related shooting in the neighborhood last year still wasn’t enough to drive those housing prices and costs down, or the demand for any of it.
Against that backdrop, Metro continues its refusal to expand the Urban Growth Boundary. This happens despite the fact that vacancy rates remain at extremely low levels. There’s also the ongoing denials from politicians and bureaucrats about the correlation between the prices of land and their ultimate effects on housing costs due to policy decisions that were made in the 1970s that have somehow become sacrosanct.
While reminiscing about our time in the area, we realized that every time we spent money at one of these new stores, we were helping to fund the gentrification that is now pricing our friends out of the neighborhood. The success of those stores caused other stores to move in, which raised the property values further and further.
At one point, we shared a laugh over another revelation—if we had just pooled all the money we otherwise would have spent at a local bar that had since burned down, we could have invested it in some real estate. It’s entirely possible that we could have bought the apartment complex that is now being refurbished to make way for tenants willing to pay more to live there.
It’s truly sad that our group of friends will no longer have a foothold in the Alberta Street neighborhood. The fond memories of our shared experiences will soon be the only connection we’ll have to it.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and find another part of Portland to hang out in, at least until other people discover it and the whole gentrification process starts all over again. And perhaps we’ll have to repeat that process a few more times until Portland and its leaders come up with sensible solutions for the same problems that past decisions appear to have caused and made worse, at the expense of working people throughout the city.
After all, if these trends continue, they’ll eventually run out of neighborhoods to kick residents out of while welcoming the next rounds of new developments, specialized shops and condos that are well beyond the financial reach of the people who have called these areas home for years.