Opinion: Reversing Oregon’s exclusionary housing policies a shared responsibility

This 1981 photo shows the Irvington neighborhood.

By Brandon Narramore

Narramore is a 2018 graduate of Portland State University with a master’s in public policy. He lives in Portland.

Portland’s housing policy has long been one of exclusion. Racial exclusion was enforced first with deed covenants that prevented people of color from owning property and later through maps redlining where they were allowed to qualify for home mortgages. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 gave hope that this shameful history could be rectified. But unfortunately, this promise stays elusive. For even as explicit race-based segregation became outlawed, there still remains methods to reproduce exclusion. Exclusionary zoning is one such method and it is now our shared responsibility to end the unjust policy.

By banning more affordable small apartments, triplexes, and duplexes, neighborhoods exclusively zoned for single-family houses make it difficult to live in these areas if you are working class or lack the means to purchase a house. Considering that the median white household owns 86 times more wealth than its black counterpart it is no surprise that single-family neighborhoods are often the least diverse parts of the city, both economically and racially. Thus, while exclusionary zoning does not explicitly or outright ban people of color, it still preserves the redlined maps of injustice.

From 1924 to 1959, 15 neighborhoods including the West Hills, Laurelhurst, and my own Irvington, enacted the city’s first bans on apartments, according to a Sightline Institute article. Today, these neighborhoods are home to the highest median incomes in the city and offer few housing options beyond single-family homes. I am fortunate that my modest and affordable apartment is located at the edge of Irvington in a spot zoned for multifamily. The majority of Irvington is exclusively zoned for single-family and, according to Zillow, has a median home value of $725,000 – far beyond what many Portlanders can afford.

Homeowners often become provoked when the connection between exclusionary zoning and Portland’s racist past is made. They correctly argue that they are not guilty for past practices of race-covenants or redlining and its lingering effects. But as NBA player Kyle Korver wrote last month in The Players Tribune in a piece headlined “Privileged,” guilt and responsibility are not the same thing. Although today’s homeowners are not guilty for sins of the past, they still continue to benefit from exclusionary policies that inflate the values of their home at the expense of those unable to afford living in their neighborhoods. Therefore, if homeowners care about economic and racial justice then they and the rest of Portland hold a shared responsibility to end exclusionary zoning and allow the city to be a home for everyone.

I love Irvington with its beautiful parks, great community, and easy access to urban amenities. I want more people to share in this opportunity. Thankfully there are proposed policies in the works such as the Residential Infill Plan, House Bill 2001, and Senate Bill 10 that would widen access to my neighborhood. If we truly wish to integrate Portland, then it is our shared responsibility to support these policies and bills. If we allow working class people and people of color to be displaced while home values in Laurelhurst and Irvington rise, we are abdicating our responsibility and consenting to exclusion. Now is the time to take responsibility and get to work.

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