Gentrification for the people
Recently the Rockwood CDC, East Metro Economic Alliance, Oregon Community Capital, Inc., NES Financial, and Leeson Advisors hosted the first opportunity zone investor conference, in an actual opportunity zone, in the United States.
For those that do not know what opportunity zones are, opportunity zones (according to the Economic Innovation Group) are defined as "a new community development program established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities nationwide. The Opportunity Zones program provides a tax incentive for investors to re-invest their unrealized capital gains into Opportunity Funds that are dedicated to investing into Opportunity Zones designated by the chief executives of every U.S. state and territory."
This is a very exciting opportunity (pun intended) for many communities that have been underinvested in the past. The event featured investors, bankers, realtors, community development organizations, even the Federal Reserve. There was one question that really made me think: "How to we ensure the communities this incoming capital is designed to help, is not displaced?" It could not have a simple direct answer though, and that is something that we working in economic development should all consider.
The conversation around gentrification and displacement is not new for this area of the country. Portland has seen this. Many will tout the economic success of community revitalization and urban renewal on Mississippi Avenue, Alberta Street and the Pearl District just to name a few. Others will point to the displacement of marginalized communities. This is something that I know about firsthand. The first home I lived in growing up was on 20th and Wygant, one block south of Alberta. I also lived on Kirby and Skidmore for a short period of time, two blocks east of Mississippi. I have seen the changes in these neighborhoods. It is fantastic to see the restaurants, yoga studios, art galleries, pub, bakeries and eateries.
What is missing? Plenty. What is missing is Fish & Poltrty's, an owner-occupied deli that had the best wing-flings (chicken wing baskets) in the area and where I was Ms. Pac-man Champion (at least until the owner unplugged the machine). It doesn't have the local candy store where you could get now & laters, lemonheads, boston baked beans and jawbreakers. It doesn't have people like my grandmonther Joyce Ann Mitchell or even my mother, Linda Faye Mitchell or most of my neighbors. Of those who I grew up with on Northeast 20th and Wygant, only two families remain. It is important because we tend to lose what made communities special in the first place and many of the gains received in "community revitalization" is often not realized by the inhabitants of communities that are to be revitalized.
We must remember to continue to encourage community in our communities. We have to take these investments and ensure we are investing people as well as building facades. This why I appreciate the work of the Rockwood CDC, The City of Gresham and others as part of the Rockwood Raising Project that include microenterprise development of those currently in the community. We have to ensure those, especially from underrepresented communities have access to capital to grow businesses and share in revitalization. You may see an African American who has a great barbecue sauce. What I see, is the next Junki Yoshida who turned a family recipe for a teriyaki-based cooking sauce into a multi-million dollar company that has created jobs for thousands and had been very impactful philanthropically. This can only happen if we invest in people.
I personally advocate for economic development every day. I believe business and investment can change lives and have measurable impact. I also know it is very enticing to take advantage of marinized communities. We, the collective we including investors, civic leader, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, everyone, have an opportunity (pun again intended) to get it right with opportunity zones. Lets build a program where we reward those socially who invest in the people of a community and not solely the buildings. Lets plan for inclusive economic development all of us share in the benefits of revitalization and where growing our region doe not mean displacing those who make our neighborhoods a community.