The ReBuilding Center in collaboration with the African American Alliance for Homeownership (AAAH) began an inaugural “Day of Service” this last Saturday, June 11th, an event that helps stem displacement of long-term residents of N/NE Portland. Staff from the ReBuilding Center and AAAH as well as dozens of volunteers showed up bright and early on Saturday morning, coffee in hand, to get going on some home repairs for members of their community. We focused on five different projects ranging from cement pouring to yard work to house painting. It was a powerful experience to be able to talk to homeowners and hear their stories, perspective on the development of the area, and about the complexity of issues surrounding gentrification.
Since 1958, Ruth has seen her neighborhood transition through three distinct phases. When she first moved into her home 58 years ago, she remembers the area as a vibrant community where you could find everything you needed from food markets to a 10 cent store. She then witnessed the street experience heightened crime rates due to a stronger gang presence. Now she refers to the streets as “clean” and has seen the area turn into a once again bustling neighborhood. And no, she doesn’t want to sell. Every week she receives offers, people trying to buy her home. How could she leave her beautiful lavender home where she’s raised her kids and grandkids? With age, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with the house and the garden. Years ago, during an earthquake, the cement stairs leading to Ruth’s home broke and it’s been hard for her to get down the stairs ever since. ReBuilding Center staff and volunteers were happy to lend their skills to fill her new cement stairway.
Pat is a real firecracker. Her creative and whimsical design sensibilities show throughout her home and yard. We helped Pat with her backyard, repairing a fence that she hasn’t been able to fix because of her arthritis. Pat loves to walk and reminds us that “it’s just as important to keep your mind as active as your body when you’re older.” Pat’s lived in her house for over 42 years and can count on one hand how many long-term residents still live in her surrounding neighborhood. “Everybody’s been pushed out,” she says, “it’s strange to see how much change has happened in our neighborhood.” A perk of the new development? Pat enjoys frequenting the new restaurants popping up in her area, serving hip and affordable fare during happy hour.
Elaine & Milhouse
Elaine & Milhouse bought their home back in 1991 and they have been wanting to touch-up their house paint for a while now. They feel like their home stands amidst the freshly re-done houses popping up next door. Within the last ten years, they say the worst part of the rapidly changing environment is the traffic on their busy street. Several parked cars have been hit. And although they’ve developed relationships with their new neighbors, Elaine says, “it doesn’t make you feel good when you don’t know your [old] neighbors anymore.” With Elaine’s full-time schedule as a care-giver, and both of them getting older, it’s hard for them to keep up with repairs. We were happy to meet some of their needs and get to know our neighbors!
Carly was the youngest of the bunch but still stood witness to the dramatic changes to the neighborhood. She says, “it’s weird, every time I even drive to the ReBuilding Center, I see new stuff. Things are popping up so fast.” She believes it’s important to keep neighborhoods diverse. She tries to see all the change as positively as she can but wishes that it didn’t mean destroying what was already there. Carly doesn’t want Portland to look like every other city. She grew up in Portland and feels like it breeds a certain kind of nutty person. With affordable housing becoming more and more scarce, she worries about our houseless populations, especially families because of how hard it would be for them to adjust. Working at Kruger Farms and doing all of her own home repairs (using almost solely materials from the ReBuilding Center), Carly’s thought about renting out her house but doesn’t have very many options to choose from. It was a pleasure to help out with a few projects that required specific skill sets, such as cementing and rerouting a drain pipe.
We also served another long term resident named ShaRee with her backyard. Twelve crew members weed-wacked and trimmed their way through a backyard jungle, yielding impressive results.
A big thank you to City of Roses Disposal & Recycling for the drop box, Metro for providing paint, brushes, and a voucher for the drop box at Metro Transfer Station, Oregon Deli Co. and Mississippi Pizza Pub for their generous donations to feed all the volunteers and staff, as well as Stormbreaker Brewing, who provided a nice discount for the wrap-up celebration!
The Day of Service was so successful that we would like to make it a regular event!