Photo of Gentrified Portland

Sellwood is the place to be, if you can afford it

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

I live in the tony neighborhood of Sellwood, in southeast Portland. It is one of the whitest and most upper-middle-class areas I have ever lived in. Overall, I really like it here because of the many amenities I can stroll to by foot.

It is a safe place with an amazing walkability score, if you are into real-estate speculation. I love the local eateries, the nearby public library outlet, the pubs, the winery, the bakery, the New Seasons food store, the Wednesday farmers market, and access to the Springwater bike corridor that connects with north and east Portland.

So why the heck wouldn’t everyone want to live here, if they could afford homes at $750,000 or more? Why wouldn’t developers consider tearing down existing homes and rebuilding massive mega-houses, condos, and new apartments given the logic of real-estate development and the construction industry?

According to the website of the local neighborhood association, the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League, or SMILE, there are more than 30 projects underway in the Sellwood and Moreland neighborhoods.

In the past month it startled me how quickly a house can be torn down, trees cut, and land leveled for some medium and higher density projects. In some cases there are just McMansions that are testaments to the pure gluttony of excessive wealth, and we have those in this area. More are surely coming.

A lot of commercial building activity is taking place, in areas zoned for that. But the demolishing of a home is always jarring. The promotion of higher density development in the inner urban areas of Portland like Sellwood have also spurred a housing and rental crisis that saw Portland’s rent rise at the fastest rate in the country in 2016.

Density not Entirely Welcomed

There is an active, homeowner-driven backlash against higher density, often pitting middle- and upper-middle class homeowners against each other in some areas near me, notably the upscale Eastmoreland neighborhood, while other areas like my neighborhood are seeing the impacts of higher density during the past three years.

I overall support higher density, but I am deeply worried very little affordable rental housing stock is being built, further limiting the ability of lower-income and middle-income renters to enjoy what may soon be off-limits to many.

In the November 2016 election, city voters by a strong margin approved a $258 million bond to build more affordable housing, but it is not clear how those dollars will be spent long-term.

Just this week, Oregonian reported, “Renters, stretched financially and pushed geographically toward Portland’s outskirts and suburbs, loudly demanded solutions—joined in some cases by powerful business interests who saw the issue as a threat to the city’s otherwise growing economy.”

The paper said a typical two-bedroom apartment is now out of reach for most residents. Those are people very similar to me. The paper further noted, “The city’s concentration of struggling renters has only grown. Rents have climbed 30 percent since 2012.”

Meanwhile the bulldozers are clearing a few lots, and I can bet that most of the coming replacement units are not meant for those in my income bracket.

Downtown Portland, a profile in Northwest-style gentrification

Portland is no stranger to gentrification. I’ll use that term to describe the redevelopment of urban properties that “revitalize” areas from being low-value for tax collectors to high-value and geared to serve people with high-income levels. That is my own definition. One piece of downtown that has transformed over the last two decades is around Burnside Street and the blocks of SW and NW 10th through SW and NW 14th. One of the anchor businesses here is Powell’s Books, a great institution. Whole Foods moved in more than a decade ago, and there continues to be a lively debate if the company follows the prevailing winds, or moves the local real-estate market up in price once it chooses a site. (For the record, I have shopped and eaten here many times.)

The landmark building in this section of downtown is the old Henry Weinhard’s Brewery. This is a classic late 19th century brick factory style structure that once was home to the former local beer company of the same name that is now folded within the larger MillerCoors brewing empire. The old factory is now mixed-used retail and condos, following the redevelopment completed in 2002. The building retains a facade of a brewery, but it doesn’t brew beers. Scores of other fine microbreweries do that around town. On any give night, there is a lot of foot traffic, and people usually pack the Henry’s Tavern located inside the old factory. When I first moved to Portland in 1983, I remember this part of town as being a popular area to many homeless residents, warehouses, and retail businesses that came and went.

Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.