Representatives from Metro and its partner agencies gathered on Tuesday, April 4 to celebrate the grand opening of the Hattie Redmond Apartments in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood. This new apartment community will provide 60 permanent, stable homes with services for people who have experienced homelessness. The project is funded in part by Metro’s affordable housing bond— a contribution of $4.4 million — with services paid for by Metro’s supportive housing services fund.
Culturally-specific services are provided on-site by the Urban League of Portland, who co-developed the project along with Home Forward, Portland’s housing authority agency. Residents have access to a resident coordinator, case managers and peer support specialists, who are there to offer support to when residents whenever they need it. A team of housing specialists and case managers help each resident maintain housing stability by supporting individual needs, whether it is teaching them life skills, helping them manage their finances, or accompanying them to medical appointments.
The Hattie Redmond is part of Home Forward’s N/NE Housing Preference Policy, which aims to address the harm caused – primarily to the Black community — by government-led urban renewal initiatives. In this program, applicants who have personal or generational ties to the area are prioritized for residency at participating buildings.
Harriet “Hattie” Redmond was a pillar of Portland’s Black community and a leading voice for women’s voting rights. She moved to Oregon as a young child, at a time when it was illegal for Black people to permanently live in the state. Her parents had formerly been enslaved in the South, and her father bought their freedom papers with his earnings as a ship caulker in St. Louis.
Unable to pursue a trade or profession due to intersecting forces of racism and sexism, Hattie balanced her time as a domestic laborer with her work in advocating for change as, among other roles, the secretary and spokesperson for the Colored Women’s Council. Her decades of advocacy paid off when women’s suffrage was officially ratified by Oregon’s (male) voters. Hattie celebrated by registering to vote as soon as she was able, in April of 1913.
Hattie’s legacy of working to better everyone’s conditions lives on – 110 years after her registration to vote – in the newly opened apartment community bearing her name. She was laid to rest in the historic Lone Fir Cemetery, which is managed by Metro and open to the public for visiting. Her portrait hangs at the entrance of the Hattie Redmond Apartments, greeting residents, visitors and staff.
Celebrating a successful collaboration
The spirit of Hattie Redmond was alive at the apartment community’s grand opening. Nkenge Harmon Johnson, President and CEO of Urban League of Portland, shared how her parents’ lifetime of service to Portland’s Black community inspired her path. She also recalled how Urban League’s housing initiative came about, when Harmon Johnson, Housing Director Denetta Monk and the Vice President Julia Marie Delgado decided to start building housing as part of Urban League’s work several years ago. They were seeing too many solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis that were not helpful in the long run, or well-suited to support Black Portlanders.
This led to a unique partnership with Home Forward, with Urban League serving as not just service provider, but also co-developer. Within the context of the escalating emergency of the pandemic, “We made a decision that we were going to do what was necessary to save people’s lives.” For Harmon Johnson, that meant “in order for this to be in service to our community we need to be at the table at the very beginning.” Though Home Forward was initially reluctant to partner on development – which is not a common practice for the agency – Harmon Johnson was firm in advocating for that relationship.
“This is proof of concept y’all: It’s doing the thing that we said we would do,” she said, reflecting on the project coming to fruition. Urban League looks forward to more development partnerships with Home Forward. “We’re building housing because we have to,” Harmon Johnson explained, “Because people who look like me don’t get served.” She closed her remarks by underscoring the importance of stable housing in supporting all aspects of life.
United States Senator Earl Blumenauer was also in attendance. He connected the Hattie Redmond Apartments to the legacy of racist discrimination in Portland’s housing market, pointing to how difficult it was for many generations of people of African descent to buy their own homes due to discriminatory practices in mortgage lending, among others. “This is a symbol for how we’re going to redress those past wrongs,” he said. “Housing is essential.”
Metro Council President Lynn Peterson explained that, though housing wasn’t necessarily an area Metro anticipated stepping into several years ago, when voters asked for a regional housing bond Metro accepted the challenge. “I want to thank the voters who passed a $652.8 million bond measure because it is having an immense amount of impact everywhere and specifically here,” she said.
Community has been key in bringing the Hattie Redmond Apartments vision to life. “The success of this lies in the transformational partnership between Home Forward and Urban League,” said President Peterson. “Together they are addressing an urgent need to provide focused services in the Black community - a population overrepresented yet underserved” among people experiencing homelessness in the region.
Charisse: “in the right place at the right time”
Charisse “Char” Norwood was one of the first people to move into the building when it opened to residents at the beginning of March. Norwood is a domestic violence survivor and had been living for about six months at the Bybee Lakes Hope Center – a privately-run shelter for people experiencing homelessness. After an intake assessment she was placed with the Native American Rehabilitation Association, who referred her to Urban League. That’s when she found out about the Hattie Redmond Apartments.
Norwood loves her new home. It’s walking distance from the library, post office, Heavenly Donuts, Fred Meyer and Wendy’s, right by the MAX, and has amenities like a computer area. One of her favorite parts of living at the Hattie Redmond is the people. “I’ve never lived in an apartment where you have a community, where you have people that talk to each other. We’re like family already.” Norwood has already been able to help some of her new neighbors by sharing kitchen items she had in storge. “To be helpful is what I do. That’s a good feeling, to give,” she explained. “I want to give back, whatever way I can.”
She also appreciates the “amazing” staff. The on-site peer support specialist has an “open door” policy, which means that Norwood can stop by and talk whenever she needs to. At Bybee Lakes, she was often a shoulder to lean on for other residents, but she needs that support too. “Just by me getting it out and venting and talking about what my issue was [with the peer support specialist at Hattie Redmond], it helped. So having a peer support here is amazing.”
“To be a part of this is a privilege and an honor,” Norwood said. “I know I’m in the right place at the right time.”
More affordable homes for greater Portland
Metro’s Affordable Housing Bond was approved by voters in 2018. The bond’s original aim was to create 3,900 affordable homes by funding property acquisition and development projects to create new affordable homes distributed across the region – 21% in Clackamas County, 45% in Multnomah County and 34% in Washington County, based on how many people live in each county.
Metro is on track to have all bond funding committed by 2024 and now forecasts it will exceed the initial production of 3,900 apartment homes by at least 800. All projects are expected to break ground by 2026 and will complete construction within a few years of their groundbreakings.