Message - Blasting The Ghetto

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Posted by  Richard Ellmyer on March 17, 2003 at 00:37:51:

Although it misses some important points and gets a few things wrong, Willamette Week and reporter Aimee Curl deserve credit for publishing the most comprehensive story written on the Columbia Villa remodel project to date.*

Residents and businesses of North Portland, neighborhood activists everywhere, Oregon state legislators, elected officials throughout Multnomah County, urban planners and architects throughout the United States should be interested in the policy, politics and credibility issues inherent in this story of massive social engineering.

Getting It Right
Yes, Columbia Villa is a "ghetto." "It may not be the looming, concrete towers of Chicago's Cabrini Green... but...[the]housing project serves the same purpose - to concentrate poverty and keep it from the surrounding neighborhood."

Yes, the Villa remodel is a "social experiment" a "new form of social engineering."

Yes, City Commissioner Erik Sten is right when he supports neighborhoods of mixed income housing by saying, "if you have people of all income levels, you're better off." And that, my friends, is exactly and precisely the point, "ALL income levels." But it is even more than that. All must include sufficient numbers of each economic group to create an authentic economically integrated community. A token few above 80% AMI is NOT sufficient. This is not a market driven housing development. This is a government commanded housing project. It should have been but unfortunately will not be the most creative and visionary solution we could have imagined.

Getting It Wrong
"For the past two years, [Ellmyer] has dedicated virtually every spare moment to stopping [the] ambitious overhaul [at Columbia Villa.]" NOT true Aimee. I did tell you and the record shows that almost all of the past two years were spent trying to make this project work. Only recently, when it became clear that wasn't possible did I change direction. For a professional reporter, misstating important facts already on the public record is either sloppy work or purposefully misleading to support a personal bias. Neither of these are attractive traits in your line of work.

"Although he frames his objections in public-policy questions relating to density, scratch the surface and they sound an awful lot like classic not-in-my-backyard arguments." Now really Aimee, please. The public policy issue which we discussed at length, is central to this issue, and yet somehow never made it into your article. If you had taken the time to see the HAP Clients By Neighborhood map in person or on the web site perhaps the public policy issue would have been clearer to you. Well, here's a reminder. It goes like this.

Increasing the number of tax-supported low-income housing clients in a neighborhood that already has the highest number of low-income housing clients in the City of Portland, Multnomah County and the state of Oregon is Bad Public Policy. The Housing Authority of Portlandís plan to approximately double the number of qualified residents (80% or less of Average Median Income) at Columbia Villa, Oregonís largest (70 acre) tax-supported low-income housing compound, falls under this Bad Public Policy and should be rejected.

Now who is it that I don't want in my backyard? An ADDITIONAL 1300 HAP clients? YES. Most assuredly. Is there anyone in the state of Oregon who believes that improving the quality of life in their neighborhood is achieved by OVERLOADING their own neighborhood with low-income housing?

And since you brought it up, Where is your backyard? Near Steve Rudman? Howard Shapiro? More importantly, you didn't mention that every member of the power elite with influence and decision making authority in this matter lives a respectfully safe distance from the fallout of HAP's Columbia Villa plans.

Missing Parts
To accurately and fairly report to the public on HAP's institutional credibility regarding the Columbia Villa remodel project a journalist must include HAP's behavior over the past two years of their project. In our recent phone conversation I told you that HAP has NO INSTITUTIONAL CREDIBILITY when it comes to the Columbia Villa remodel project.** Obviously institutional credibility is not high on your priority list. However, Willamette Week does have a long proud history of not only holding the "feet" of institutions to the fire but roasting them until they are blackened and smoking. Your regular work for the Daily Journal of Commerce has clearly not prepared you for full time employment with the veteran WW "go for the jugular, earn while you burn" staff.

Where's the money? A major portion of HAP's Villa remodel funding has been neither allocated, nor committed, nor, I believe, will it ever become available. If presumed funding sources do not materialize then it is fair to assume that the Villa project at the very least would be in serious jeopardy or dramatically changed if not foreclosed. The case for unsubstantiated funding expectations was already made before you completed your article. ***

And last but certainly not least, Where is the discussion of the neighborhood perspective? Yes, you did note using 8 point margin print that the North Portland Business Association opposes this project and there is a web site. Yes, you did note that there was a list of dozens of citizens opposing this project. You even quoted one. But where were the paragraphs - urban planners, architects, neighborhood activists and politicos take note - dedicated to explaining why the rest of these neighborhood businesses, local residents, citizens and voters resent and reject HAP's self-serving building schemes?

You, along with others, continue to mistakenly frame this issue from HAP's point of view not the neighborhood point of view. Our city prides itself on its neighborhoods just as we used to do with our school system. Candidates for public office orate endlessly on the importance of and their support for neighborhoods. Yet neither press not politicians start from the question, Is this Villa remodel project in the best interests of the people that already live or own businesses in North Portland neighborhoods? Will this Villa remodel project enhance the quality of life for those families that own property, vote or send their children to public schools in North Portland neighborhoods? Will this Villa remodel project enhance the quality of businesses in North Portland neighborhoods?

This issue is primarily and fundamentally about NEIGHBORHOOD stability and community balance NOT HAP's institutional housing agenda.


Richard Ellmyer
Portland, Oregon

President, MacSolutions Inc., a Macintosh computer consulting and web hosting service located in the Portsmouth neighborhood of North Portland since 1984.
Member, North Portland Business Association
Staff advisor to former state senator Bill McCoy and former Multnomah County Commissioner Gladys McCoy.

For more detailed information on the controversial $200 million Columbia Villa remodel project go to: .

Articles related to this subject by and about Richard Ellmyer

Blasting The Ghetto by Aimee L. Curl, Willamette Week, March 12, 2003.

Community activism - Getting involved to make a difference by Gayla Whitman, The Review of North Portland, September 13, 2002.

Columbia Villa faces transformation by Gordon Oliver, Oregonian, July 24, 2002.

Zoning issue handled badly by Richard Ellmyer, Portland Tribune, July 9, 2002.

Measure tips balance away from citizens by Richard Ellmyer, Portland Tribune, May 7, 2002.

People, like gardens, need help to act right by Renee Mitchel, Oregonian, March 13, 2002.

Housing boon or blight? by Cristine Gonzalez, Portland Tribune, October 9, 2001.

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