Restoring Black homeownership in gentrified north Portland
City leaders and nonprofits in Portland, Oregon, are boosting Black homeownership through down payment aid and other incentives, supported in part by Wells Fargo’s NeighborhoodLIFT.
In the historically Black neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, decades of urban renewal projects brought in pricey new housing developments, but drove out thousands of long-time residents and families in the process.
In recent years, however, Portland leaders have banded with nonprofits and philanthropy arms of companies like Wells Fargo to boost Black homeownership and repair the damage that urban renewal and gentrification caused for those who were displaced. With down payment aid and other incentives, the city has been attracting Black homeowners — whose families once lived there — back to the historic neighborhoods.
Eyewitness of the ‘drastic shift’
For Portland native Chabre Vickers, Wells Fargo’s community development officer for the state of Oregon, the impact of urban renewal and gentrification is evident in her own neighborhood. “I can see it with my own eyes every time I look outside my door,” she said. “My family has lived here for three generations, and we’ve seen a drastic shift as Black families have moved out.”
As Vickers has advocated for racial equality in housing, Wells Fargo has donated millions of dollars to the cause through its NeighborhoodLIFT® program, including $7.1 million to boost homeownership in Portland from late 2019 to early 2020. The collaboration with NeighborWorks® America, including affiliates such as Portland Housing Center, provides down payment aid and homebuyer education for low- and moderate-income homebuyers, more than two-thirds of whom are African American and other diverse populations.
According to company data, NeighborhoodLIFT has helped more than 500 Portland residents become homeowners since 2013, including nearly 30 families who bought homes in historically Black neighborhoods.
It is part of Wells Fargo’s $1 billion commitment over six years to address the U.S. housing affordability crisis. More than 24,500 new homeowners nationwide have been assisted through NeighborhoodLIFT and related LIFT programs since its inception in 2012.
Kim Smith-Moore, Wells Fargo’s national LIFT programs manager, said Portland is not alone with its history of Black neighborhoods decimated by urban renewal and gentrification. The same phenomenon has displaced Black/African Americans and other minorities in many other U.S. cities, she said.
“When you come into these neighborhoods and build houses that are unaffordable, the people there get pushed out. And when you lose the people, you lose their history. But I see NeighborhoodLIFT and other programs like it providing an opportunity to fill that gap and help make homes more affordable for hard-working, diverse families.” — Kim Smith-Moore, Wells Fargo’s national LIFT programs manager
“When you come into these neighborhoods and build houses that are unaffordable, the people there get pushed out,” Smith-Moore said. “And when you lose the people, you lose their history. But I see NeighborhoodLIFT and other programs like it providing an opportunity to fill that gap and help make homes more affordable for hard-working, diverse families.”
Despite the slow pace of Black residents returning to the historically Black neighborhoods, Vickers said the individual success stories are compelling — stories of hard-working teachers and nurses or formerly homeless families, for example, who overcame adversity to rebuild their lives and become homeowners.
No stranger to adversity, Vickers herself experienced homelessness and housing insecurity for years when she was a teenager as her mother worked multiple jobs to support three children.
“All those memories have been part of what has informed me as I go forward with my work,” said Vickers. “You never want anyone to experience something like that.”
Beating the odds and COVID-19
LaTasha Taylor reached her goal last spring of buying a home in one of Portland’s historic Black communities, where she spent much of her childhood at her grandmother’s house.
The health care worker and single mother worked long hours, took a second job as a grocery clerk, and saved tenaciously for a down payment. She also found the nonprofit Portland Housing Center, which helped her qualify for several nonprofit down payment aid programs, including one sponsored by the city of Portland.
Still short of what she needed, Taylor applied for Wells Fargo’s NeighborhoodLIFT program, and after weeks on the waiting list, she was approved for a $20,000 LIFT down payment grant.
Everything was falling into place, Taylor said, when suddenly she began to feel sick and fatigued at work. About two weeks before she was scheduled to close on her home, she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“I just broke down in tears,” said Taylor, a managed care coordinator for Oregon Health & Science University Medical Center. “I really thought I was going to die. I didn’t know what to do, who would take care of my kids, or how would I survive this.”
Through good medical care, however, along with support from friends and family, Taylor did recover. She closed April 13 on her new home, less than a mile away from her grandma’s house in a neighborhood that she loves.
“I thank God I was able to motivate myself to keep pushing forward, with the help of those around me who rallied me when sometimes I felt like giving up,” she said. “I just wanted my kids to see that if you keep fighting for something, no matter how many times you get pushed down, you can still achieve your dream.”