In the name of Charlotte B. Rutherford: A place to call home

Hon. Charlotte B. Rutherford and Sharon Wade Ellis discussed the importance of community at the groundbreaking of the Interstate Apartments in North Portland, named in honor of the retired administrative judge.

As a program officer working in Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio, I‘ve been asking myself what will it take to triage the housing crisis for Portland’s most marginalized homeless populations: people with disabilities, seniors and people of color.

A recent groundbreaking goes a way toward answering my question, one of a handful of new affordable housing developments to break ground in the Portland region.

Last week, on a sweltering summer day, I joined housing advocates, nonprofit leaders, community members and elected officials to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new housing development along North Interstate Avenue in Portland’s historic King neighborhood. And though I’m not a native of this historic African American community, the event touched me deeply. I listened as community members recounted what happened to the King neighborhood and community they called home for 50 years before urban renewal leveled bungalows and family businesses alike.

This new affordable housing complex — Charlotte B. Rutherford Place — reflects an effort to amend decades of gentrification and the subsequent displacement of residents from historic neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland.

Named after the Hon. Charlotte B. Rutherford — community activist, former civil rights attorney and retired judge — the 51-unit housing development, guided by the City of Portland’s Right to Return housing policy will offer affordable 1- and 2-bedroom units for families who have been displaced by gentrification.

“Hopefully people who wanted to stay in the community would be able to stay in the community,” said Judge Rutherford, who retired in 2010 after serving for 18 years in Oregon’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

Rutherford’s family settled in North Portland to work in the shipyards in the 1940s and over time became one of the leading African American families in Portland during the civil rights movement. Her parents, Otto G. Rutherford and Verdell Burdine, were major figures in Portland’s NAACP chapter in the 1950s and helped shepherd passage of the 1953 Oregon Civil Rights Bill.

Rutherford said she hoped the new building of 34 one-bedroom and 17 two-bedroom units, set along Interstate Avenue steps from a Head Start school and the MAX light rail, would “restore a sense of community to North Portland.”

Charlotte B. Rutherford Place is one of a trio of housing developments in Central City Concern’s Housing is Health Initiative that will provide 379 new units of affordable housing to Portland residents by 2018.

Another building in CCC’s initiative, the Stark Street Apartments, will provide 155-units of critically needed permanent housing for people exiting from transitional programs. Repeat patients who enter local emergency departments often they don't have stable housing, said Dave Underriner, regional chief executive, Providence Health & Services.

“We know that stable housing has a profound impact on health,” Underriner added.

The third CCC project, dubbed the Eastside Health Center, an integrated housing complex that will serve people in recovery from addiction, medically fragile people and people with mental illness. The Eastside center will house 176-units of affordable housing, contain a two-story clinic and offer 24-hour clinical support. A $500,000 grant from Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio supports the Eastside development.

“This housing will remain affordable for generations and it couldn’t come at a better time,” said Ed Blackburn, president and CEO of Central City Concern, Portland’s largest provider of supportive housing and health services targeting homeless adults.

— Sharon