Living Cully is a six-year-old partnership of four nonprofit organizations that are working on housing, parks and related community improvement issues in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city.
However, as they improve housing, help develop parks and encourage residents to advocate for sidewalks and paved streets, they are walking a knife’s edge: their community development work could drive up property values, forcing the low-income residents they want to help to move farther east for affordable housing.
“We have made a decision not to accept this,” said Cameron Herrington, the anti-displacement coordinator for Living Cully.
The partners include Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, which helps low-income families become homeowners, and Hacienda, a Latino Community Development Corporation that provides affordable apartments and assistance in buying homes.
NAYA, the Native American Youth and Family Center, offers a range of services including development of housing in North and Southeast Portland and programs to help urban Natives become homeowners. Verde provides training in landscape services and helps communities plan and develop parks.
The Living Cully partnership is taking several steps to preserve affordable housing for the future.
Last year, Living Cully purchased the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park, 4556 N.E. Killlingsworth St., to save housing for about 20 low-income households after the owner decided to sell the property, which could have attracted a developer.
To provide management, the partnership sold the property for $1.25 million to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, which operates six trailer parks as nonprofits in Cottage Grove, Creswell, Junction City and Eugene.
With the help of city and state funds, St. Vincent de Paul will make improvements to Oak Leaf, including roof repairs, a new road, storm water management and sewer repairs, said Paul Neville, the agency’s public relations director.
“There’s a massive amount of improvements to be made,” Neville said. Yet, saving these mobile home units, among an estimated 140,000 in the state, is important, he said, to retain a rapidly diminishing supply of affordable housing. Land rent for unit owners at Oak Leaf is less than $500, and those renting units have been paying around $500, which is as much as the park’s low-income, elderly and disabled residents on fixed incomes can afford.
“The next stop for many of these residents is the streets,” Neville said. The situation is similar for many residents in Cully’s five other mobile home parks that could attract developers because of their flat, open land, Herrington said.
Another partnership project is the purchase of a 26,000-square-foot building at Northeast 72nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street, once the Sugar Shack strip club, which nearby residents were glad to see closed.
Renamed the Living Cully Plaza, the building already offers space for birthday parties, a workout class and community meetings. Two food carts are on the large parking lot. Future plans include commercial development and possibly more housing in one end of the structure.
First, however, Living Cully must repay a $2 million loan by the end of the year to the Community Development Financial Institution. A crowdfunding campaign has started: www.indiegogo.com.
To keep housing in good shape, Living Cully, working with St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, received a grant to hire a half-time staff member to find neighborhood electricians, plumbers and handymen who can teach homeowners to make repairs.
Living Cully helped residents of the 18-unit Normandy Apartments find new housing earlier this year after the complex was sold and the new owner planned steep rent increases, in part to pay for remodeling the units. The partnership put one displaced family of four in touch with an architect and educator, Nancy Hiss, who had an empty accessory dwelling unit (ADU), sometimes called a mother-in-law flat.
Hiss designed the two-bedroom, 731-square-foot ADU behind her house for her parents. After they died, she sought new residents through Living Cully.
An ADU, Hiss said, is a responsible way to increase density in Cully. In addition, she said, “It’s a way to support families in the neighborhood.”
Living Cully joined a Portland State University group working on a plan to assist property owners with planning, permits and construction management for ADUs. The idea is to streamline the ADU process for interested property owners, said Herrington.
“People with resources and choices are beginning to come to Cully,” Herrington said, as housing costs rise. Their arrival underscores the need to maintain housing for the current residents whose choice is to stay in Cully, he said.