My SMH Moment of the Day: What am I missing?

Proposed development on this empty lot at MLK Boulevard and Alberta Street has stirred controversy as some people cry gentrification and others beg for construction. (Casey Parks/The Oregonian)

Proposed development on this empty lot at MLK Boulevard and Alberta Street has stirred controversy as some people cry gentrification and others beg for construction. (Casey Parks/The Oregonian)

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.

And, yet…

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?

Stephanie Kienzle
“Spreading the Wealth”

 

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. Fred Jonas says:

    Here’s what you’re “missing.” In “The G Spot,” you mentioned one of the results of gentrification. Not only businesses, but residents, get gentrified. Marginal businesses, and marginal residents, get pushed out to make way for commerce and people that are more upscale. You sort of explained it, correctly, as a result of increased property values.

    Now, in this post, you’re taking a snapshot of what seems to happen, or could happen, at a moment in time: building occurs, which results in new, though perhaps temporary, construction jobs, and results in a new business, which has to hire workers, which will also be locals. If all gentrification happened like that, you would not have described the extrusion of lower income people from areas that are gentrified. The rising tide, as you describe in this post, would raise all boats. Clearly, that appears not to be how it works.

    It could be, for example, that the low income locals aren’t looking for construction or service jobs. Maybe they’re not capable of them. Or that these jobs pay much better than nothing, or than welfare, but not enough to pay the higher rents that result from gentrification. And low income people are not famous for shopping at Trader Joe’s.

    So like very many theories about lots of things, the story tells well, and looks great on paper. It just may be that the story we hear or read is not what happens.

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    1. Stephanie Kienzle says:

      So the developer’s offer of low-income housing in order to keep rents affordable for residents of the area and jobs at a rate of “$17/hour plus benefits, which means an additional 75-125 living wage jobs to the neighborhood,” is not enough of an incentive?

      Am I to take it that the residents are better off with the status quo – no jobs at all and a perpetually blighted neighborhood?

      I guess that’s the part I’m still not getting.

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      1. Fred Jonas says:

        If that was part of the story, I missed it. It certainly seems as if an offer (guarantee?) of continued low income housing, plus real and living wages, should be compelling. We’re left to wonder why it isn’t. Is there something else we’re not being told? Are the area residents reluctant to trust what they’re being told. Are there so-called activists and advocates who are instilling doubt in area residents, out of some antipathy toward “the man?” We don’t know.

        It’s an interesting story and an interesting problem. And why is Trader Joe’s so willing to give up? A little resistance, and they back out of a plan that included 2/3 public sector underwriting on the land? It all sounds too good to be true, for area residents and for TJ. Is it?

        If you’re missing something, so am I.

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        1. Stephanie Kienzle says:

          Trader Joe’s did exactly what developers do when they encounter resistance from a community. It happens all the time. It’s happened in North Miami Beach, which has the reputation of being developer-unfriendly. A builder comes in and wants to build. Tree huggers come out of the woodwork to protest development. Any development. Five stories, ten stories, twenty stories. It doesn’t matter. They want trees. They don’t want buildings. They protest. They hug trees. They hire ambulance chasing lawyers to file lawsuits and tie up development in the courts for years. Because they can. The developer gets sick and tired and moves on to a development-friendly city.

          Trader Joe’s obviously invested a small amount to test the waters. There was obviously push back. Trader Joe’s cut its losses and took off. Plain and simple. Why would they go through all the bullshit to build a store in a town where no one wants them when there are thousands of cities that will welcome them? Come on, Fred. Don’t be so disingenuous. The aggravation was obviously not worth the time, effort or money (EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS WORTH!) to try to help a neighborhood that didn’t want to be helped. They said screw it. I would, too.

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      2. Fred Jonas says:

        Look at the few paragraphs including “The following month…” You will see that a demand for affordable housing had been made by activists, that the TJ development was expected to displace area residents, and that the PDC had already shown itself to be unreliable regarding preventing community displacement. I can only imagine that’s what the activists’ resistance was all about.

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        1. Stephanie Kienzle says:

          Fred, the grocery store was to be built on a vacant lot. How would that have displaced residents? If you lived in NMB, you would know that some “activists” who oppose development have no reason for their opposition other than the fact that they don’t like tall buildings, or they THINK birds are being mowed down (as if birds can’t fly away), or they just like to bitch about anything and everything. Not everyone who protests progress has anyone’s best interest in mind than their own.

          Just because those residents say that the PDC has “shown itself to be unreliable” doesn’t mean it is necessarily true. People have been known to lie. Really. They do.

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    2. Stephanie Kienzle says:

      So, if “low income locals aren’t looking for construction or service jobs,” please tell me what other jobs they’d prefer? Neurosurgery? Astrophysics, perhaps?

      You can’t be serious! Construction and service jobs are exactly what “low income” and/or under educated people are supposed to get. But, you infer that “Maybe they’re not capable of” even those types of jobs. If not, then please tell us what they are capable of? Coloring within the lines? What?

      Are we supposed to create “make work” jobs for people who don’t want or aren’t “capable of” asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

      You cannot create jobs for (a) people who don’t want to work or (b) people with the IQ of an artichoke. “Service workers” can include housekeepers, burger flippers, dishwashers, waiters, bus boys, car parkers, sanitation workers, cashiers, receptionists, hairdressers, landscapers, fruit pickers, etc., etc., etc. Are you going to tell me that “low income locals” aren’t interested in, or capable of, doing any of those jobs? SERIOUSLY?

      You literally made me blow a gasket with that ridiculous comment!

      As for “low income people are not famous for shopping at Trader Joe’s,” let me tell you this:

      I personally am “not famous for shopping” at Neiman Marcus. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want one in North Miami Beach. To go even further, I couldn’t afford a first floor, one bedroom apartment at Marina Palms, but I’ll happily take the tax dollars paid by someone who could.

      I may not be rich, but I like rich people who want to spend all that “filthy” money in my city. Unfortunately, there’s nothing here for them to spend it on.

      OMIGOD, you did NOT say all that nonsense, did you? Please tell me you didn’t before I scream again!

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  2. It's not that hard to believe says:

    “Am I to take it that the residents are better off with the status quo – no jobs at all and a perpetually blighted neighborhood?” Look at some residents right here in NMB; they prefer the decaying situation we have now, over the prosperity that new development would bring. This phenomenon has nothing to do with race and everything to do with (lack of) education.

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  3. Prem Barbosa says:

    the only thing i’ll say is that this all started because trader joes wanted a $2M subsidy.
    That about covers wages for 125 people at $17/hour for 23 weeks, that’s almost half a year.
    Who’s paying for that? The community through a CRA?
    sorry if I buried the lead

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    1. Stephanie Kienzle says:

      The articles I read said “taxpayer subsidy,” but I couldn’t find anything more specific. I’m sure there must be information available, but I don’t remember specific details.

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  4. Stephanie, I can’t help myself. I’m that tree hugging, eco friendly tote bag carrying guy and I’m shocked by this story.

    Trader Joe’s is a model of a great business. Like Costco, they pay living wages, respect their employees, engage in fair purchasing practices and bring a wide variety of items, both fresh and packaged, to the public at excellent prices. it’s exactly the sort of business that would bring long term benefit to a depressed area. Not just the construction jobs but having a high quality, low price place to shop is not a downside. And they hire locally.

    I used to live in Portland Oregon, a lovely city marred by rain and boredom, (I kind of prefer my cities more chaotic, you know, like Miami) and the objections to Trader Joe’s by the “community” seem cynical at best. While there are valid concerns about gentrification, blocking Trader Joe’s cannot be one of them. I think the “community leaders” used Portland’s reflexive liberal sympathies to the detriment of the residents. I’ve seen it before.

    My guess is that there are other plans and other benefits to the “community leaders” not being publicly shared.

    I would kill for a Trader Joe’s in North Bay Village or really anywhere in Northeast Dade. I put a cooler in my car about once a month and drive to Dadeland once a month just to stock up. Hint – don’t buy the chocolate covered pretzels, at least if you’re me. You will eat the whole bag in one sitting.

    It’s really sad to see a community defeated by this.

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    1. Stephanie Kienzle says:

      Kevin, thanks for the information on Trader Joe’s. I heard it was a great company to work for and patronize. I just don’t understand why this store wouldn’t be welcome anywhere. It makes no sense to me.

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