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Oregon lawsuit highlights destruction of black neighborhoods

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A house that was part of Bobby Fouther’s childhood is now a parking lot, with the shingle-sided two-story home having been demolished in the 1970s along with numerous other properties in a predominantly black neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.

“Growing up there was just a matter of love,” Fouther said.

Fouther and his sister, Elizabeth Fouther-Branch, are now among 26 black people who lived in the neighborhood or are descendants of former residents and are suing Portland, the city’s economic and urban development agency and Legacy Hospital. Emanuel, accusing them of “racist destruction of homes and forced displacement.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Portland, highlights how urban improvement projects and the construction of the nation’s highways have often come at the expense of neighborhoods that are not majority white.

“In many cases, city and state planners have deliberately built black neighborhoods to clean up so-called slums and run-down areas,” according to a 2020 report by Pew Charitable Trusts, a public policy group. Pennsylvania-based nonprofit.

People who were racial minorities were often forced to live in these neighborhoods because of “redlining” — banks discriminated against home loan applicants based on their race — and even because of laws that maintained all-white neighborhoods. .

In 1934, Fouther’s great-aunt and her husband bought a house, which he and his sister visited almost daily, in the Albina neighborhood of Portland, according to the lawsuit.

But even after buying houses and building lives in Albina, residents were forced to move by so-called urban renewal and the construction of highways.

Albina had already been partially destroyed and carved up in the 1950s and 1960s by the construction of Interstate 5 and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the original home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. But then an extension of the hospital was announced.

Between 1971 and 1973, the Portland Development Commission demolished approximately 188 properties, 158 of which were residential and inhabited by 88 families and 83 individuals. A total of 32 businesses and four churches or community organizations were also destroyed, according to the lawsuit. Of the forcibly displaced households, 74% were black.

Oortland, Oregon

An early phase, in the 1950s and 1960s, involved city officials secretly agreeing to compensate the hospital for the full cost of purchases and demolitions, according to the lawsuit. The owners were bullied by hospital officials and told that if they didn’t leave, the city would take their homes. They were not fairly compensated and, in some cases, not compensated at all, according to the lawsuit.

“This case concerns the intentional destruction of a thriving black neighborhood in central Albina under the guise of facilitating a hospital expansion that never happened,” the lawsuit states, adding that the loss of homes “has meant the deprivation of inheritance, intergenerational wealth, community and opportunity.

Much of the land that was once a thriving neighborhood, where black families felt safe and had social and spiritual ties, has become parking lots or sits vacant.

“I have been removed from my safe and loving community. I was moved to a neighborhood that considered me a nuisance and to a school where I was one of three black children,” said Connie Mack, one of the complainants.

The lawsuit said the defendants benefited from an “unjust enrichment” of “this horribly racist chapter of Portland’s past”.

Legacy Health, owner of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it was evaluating it. Prosper Portland, formerly of the Portland Development Commission, also said he was evaluating the complaint and had no further comment. City officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Albina is now called the Eliot district, which is full of trendy shops, cafes and restaurants.

“Our neighborhood, in the heart of the ancient town of Albina, is an ideal place to live, work and play,” proclaims the Eliot neighborhood association on its website.

Many of the plaintiffs’ homes, had they not been destroyed, would have been worth more than $500,000 today, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages from the defendants, the amounts of which will be determined at trial.

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