Gentrification is on the tips of many tongues in Portland, and the cranes looming all over the city create a constant reminder of what’s in store. We struggled to hear Amanda Morse, founder of Bluehouse Greenhouse on N. Williams, over the din of condo construction sites along two sides of the urban farm. When she set up the farm just five years ago, today’s booming Williams was full of empty lots that no one seemed eager to invest in.
Last year, a herd of beloved neighborhood goats on Belmont were themselves displaced (and their image appropriated by the developers who bought the site to build more condos). Along with many human residents, they moved east. In this case, the goat owners were offered a one-year lease in Lents; the City hopes that the goats’ popularity might attract more private investment to the neighborhood. Many urban agriculture projects are on short leases or borrowed land; as land prices rise in Portland, owners may be compelled to sell to the next, inevitably higher, bidder.
The potential for urban farms and gardens to put themselves out of business or contribute to the displacement of local residents is by no means inevitable. Cameron Herrington—the Anti-displacement Coordinator for Living Cully—insisted that it’s time to push the conversation beyond the Catch 22 by which you either have great neighborhoods where low-income people can’t afford to live or else disinvested ones without basic amenities where they can. Living Cully stresses a paired strategy that both builds assets in low-income neighborhoods, such as parks and community gardens, while at the same time fighting for affordable housing. This coalition has been central to the creation of an anti-displacement platform. The City Council will vote later this month on whether to include their proposed set of policies in its Comprehensive Plan. Broadly, the policies focus on three areas:
1) Outreach to the most vulnerable. Measures require outreach to the communities most likely to be affected by any City infrastructure investment.
2) Analysis of potential displacement impacts. Measures require that the City analyze the possible effects of public investment on property values and the housing market, including how public investment will affect long-term access to housing for low-income families.
3) Mitigation. Measures require that the City take action to mitigate predicted effects.
These policies are not intended to deter infrastructure investments in low-income neighborhoods. Living Cully is deeply committed to improving neighborhood livability through parks, gardens, transit lines, bike lanes and other amenities. They welcome investment from the City to this end but want to make sure that residents will be able to remain in their neighborhoods. For this reason, ensuring the housing rights of low-income communities is among the most important faces of social justice struggles in Portland today.
When asked about the possible tension between urban agriculture and affordable housing, urban farmers and community gardeners echoed the perspective of Living Cully, answering, “We want both.” Neither gardens nor affordable housing can promise the cash flows of market-rate condo development. But an inclusive, livable City includes both.