I pride myself on the fact that I’m fairly shock-proof. I’ve seen enough people do the craziest things, and behave in the most bizarre manner, that at this point almost nothing surprises me.
Here I sit, SMH (Shaking My Head) over a February 3, 2014 Associated Press article published on Yahoo.com called Trader Joe’s drops black-neighborhood store plan.
The story starts out:
The Trader Joe’s grocery-store chain has dropped a plan to open a new store in the heart of the city’s historically African-American neighborhood after activists said the development would price black residents out of the area.
The grocer, whose stores are found in urban neighborhoods across the nation, said Monday it wouldn’t press its plan, given community resistance, The Oregonian reported.
The AP article also stated that this “store would have been the anchor of a two-building development that included space for four to 10 shops and 100 parking spaces.”
I dug up this article after I posted my column, The G Spot, on Facebook and someone commented, “A community group’s answer to gentrification in Portland, Ore. was to stop a Trader Joe’s from building on a vacant lot. We don’t want those jobs here, now do we!!!!!!!!!!”
I’m embarrassed to admit I had no idea what he was talking about. Lately, I’ve been so entrenched in our local issues and problems that I’ve neglected news from around the country. But, I was intrigued enough to do a bit more research on this whole gentrification thing.
The AP article relates that a parcel of property in Portland, Oregon in a predominately black neighborhood, which had appraised for $2.9 million, sat “vacant for years.” The controversy began when a “mystery grocer” applied for a $2 million subsidy from the Portland Development Commission, an urban renewal agency, in order to purchase the land and build a full-service grocery store to “one of the city’s underserved neighborhoods,” which is “an area with above-average poverty and few healthy-food options,” according to an article in The Oregonian dated November 11, 2013.
The following month, the debate got even more heated when the Portland African American Leadership Forum sent a letter to the Portland Development Commission and the mayor demanding that the project be stopped unless certain demands, including affordable housing, were met. The Oregonian reported on December 18, 2013:
PAALF, established in 2009, is a group of African American leaders united around an agenda of equity in education, economic development, housing and health issues.
The Trader Joe’s development will increase displacement of low-income residents and “increase the desirability of the neighborhood,” for “non-oppressed populations,” PAALF wrote.
“Given the long-standing list of promises made, and yet unfulfilled by the PDC to prevent community displacement, PAALF is and will remain opposed to any development in N/NE Portland that does not primarily benefit the Black community.”
Portland’s Leadership Forum made a list of demands, including a low-income housing project, before agreeing to the deal.
The Oregonian published another article on January 16, 2013 recapping a public discussion that had been held and which answered many questions on the minds of community members. One item of concern was local job creation, which was addressed by the Portland Development Commission, as follows:
“Trader Joe’s pays an average of $17/hour plus benefits, which means an additional 75-125 living wage jobs to the neighborhood…the development will have bike racks and the number of racks will be finalized as part of the community design process. We are currently working with Trader Joes and Majestic [Realty] to finalize local hiring plans, but typically Trader Joes hires 75% of employees from the local neighborhood.”
In addition, on January 30, 2014, The Oregonian reported that the developer chose as its general contractor an “African American owned company” by the name of Colas Construction. The president of the 17-year old company, Andrew Colas, announced, “This is the biggest project we’ve ever been involved in.” The article further noted:
Colas, a Portland native and graduate of Benson Polytechnic High School, said the project will bring an estimated 300 new construction jobs to the city. His company, he said, will have to bring on four new staffers as well as a result of the construction.
Being a minority-owned contractor in Portland is difficult, Colas said, and opportunities such as the Trader Joe’s project are few and far between. “I know every building and every contractor that’s built” along Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, Colas said. He claims the Trader Joe’s will be the first development of its kind backed by a African-American contracting firm.
“This is a big deal,” he said.”
Despite that good news, the debate in the community continued. Finally, Trader Joe’s decided the aggravation wasn’t worth it and backed out of the deal “after ‘negative reactions’ from the community,” as reported by The Oregonian on February 3, 2014. The company issued a statement claiming:
“We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple: if a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question,” the statement read.
By putting the brakes on this project, the Portland African American Leadership Forum essentially put an end “to the destructive impact of gentrification and displacement on the African American community.”
In the end, the residents of a Portland neighborhood sorely in need of economic development are now stuck with no new business, no new housing, no new jobs, nothing at all to “primarily benefit the Black community,” and an empty weed-strewn lot that’s been vacant for over twenty years.
Gee, that worked out well for them.
But, maybe I’m missing something in the bigger picture here. Maybe some of my readers can help me out so I can stop SMH. Clue me in. What am I missing?
“Spreading the Wealth”