We want to hear from you. Discuss an important issue, respond to a request for comment or address a concern you want to call to the attention of the community. Please limit your letter to 500 words or less, and include your full name and the neighborhood in which you reside. We prefer e-mailed letters to the editor sent to editor@midcountymemo.com. Put “Letter to the editor” in the subject line. You may also mail letters to 3510 N.E. 134th Ave., Portland, OR 97230. Deadline for the June issue is Monday, May 15. 

Action Plan’s actions harming east Portland

To the editor: 

Considering the significant changes at the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO) and with the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP), perhaps the time has come to revisit the needs and priorities for outer east Portland; a vast area of Portland that needs rebalancing. I believe EPAP is soaked in individuals representing governmental agencies, non-profit groups and special interest groups rather than neighborhood residents and activists. These groups, for the most part, are paid to represent the underserved and those living with economic challenges.

I believe EPAP’s agenda has become overwhelmingly tilted toward supporting the underserved, focusing on affordable housing and fighting for anti-displacement rules to protect the economically disadvantaged. While a noble and worthy cause, I believe EPAP’s desire to support the underserved has only helped exacerbate the challenges that are unique to all east Portland. The imbalance that has been created in neighborhoods allowed to grow poverty is felt throughout the whole community and impacts livability for all.

Concentrated poverty negatively impacts schools; schools with concentrated poverty are often considered below average academically when judged on state testing criteria. Most people, given the choice—no matter their economic standing—don’t want to send their children to a school in difficulty.

Therefore, people with means, given the choice, are reluctant to move into a neighborhood and into a school district with hard-pressed schools; people in poverty, often without a choice, are forced to move into areas with struggling schools.

Struggling schools do not draw upwardly mobile families to their communities. Concentrated poverty stifles economic growth. Consequently, without economically stable residents, grocery stores, retail and commercial businesses, and capital managers are reluctant to invest in the area.

This is not an indictment of our schools. On the contrary, I spent 36 years as an elementary teacher and middle school principal in the Centennial School District and believe east Portland schools perform at a high level (check out David Douglas academic results from ten years ago compared to today) given the challenges forced on them by short-sighted city planning decisions. Unfortunately, without community balance, the schools face a daunting task.

I believe that EPAP’s good intentions are exacerbating east Portland problems, not fixing them. More affordable housing ensures the economic imbalance remains, anti-displacement means the economically disadvantaged continue sending their children to pinched schools and east Portland will forever be a place where many must live, rather than want to live.

What’s the solution?

Portland should balance communities by spreading affordable housing to all neighborhoods throughout the city equally. This ensures all schools have a student population balance conducive to a healthy and diverse learning environment. When schools pass the 70 percent free and reduced lunch threshold (a generous number), the city should see this as a sign of significant imbalance. And, instead of celebrating and encouraging the concentration of poverty through its misguided action plan, act in support of the impacted community and schools to reverse the trend.

What measures and oversight are in place to ensure EPAP is truly representative of east Portland neighborhoods and is creating an action plan that will get the results necessary to create an economically vibrant and balanced community?

Doug Cook
Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association Chair