Housing All for One and One for All

(Photograph of a crowd holding up gay pride flags)

By Marcco Higham

Nov 21, 2020

Portland itself was never my dream destination. I landed here to pursue an undergraduate degree path related to urban planning. It is a rarity because universities across the country by and large do not offer undergraduate degree programs that directly address urban issues and urban phenomena.

Fortunately I found the Community Development program at Portland State University, which blew open my conceptions of urbanism and urban planning. While the program was rich and diverse in its approaches and theoretical framework, it always pushed forward a “radical” notion that communities and the people that make them up are the true drivers of community development and progression.

I found myself in a rapidly changing city at the peak – we’ll see what’s to come – of gentrification. With it came communities that felt betrayed and burned by their own city. I encountered people that may be described as “jaded” and immiserated by the unforgiving socio-economic realities of this city. And rightfully so, as I reflect on what I have learned from the lived experiences of these people. I studied gentrification in a proper academic setting – but I also watched it in action as it rippled through the many villages of Portland.

Both vantage points have been disturbing and have even left me questioning my career path on multiple occasions. While there is only so much the individual can control and be a part of, I realized at some point I need to start somewhere and that I also need to be humbled by:

1. The lived experience of those experiencing the hardship related to these changes, and

2. New information that brings with it nuance and ideas that challenge your original conceptions.

Whether you are someone that has been displaced from your own neighborhood, an active gentrifier from the boogey land of California, or someone confused by what’s going on in Portland constantly, my hard-earned opinion is that you have to be someone ready to adapt to change to be able to survive and understand Portland. I have found that Portland is a city brimming with life and energy, especially from creative and queer individuals.

It is also an unforgiving place that challenges your stability through exorbitant housing costs and economic disenfranchisement. Portland makes the news for better or worse because its people are exceptionally passionate about their ideals, dreams, and beef with those that have wronged them. While change is inevitable, my hope for Portland is that housing justice can become a reality and that people that create community and find a home for themselves can stay here and grow here.

As an urbanist, I once dreamed of developing skyscrapers that redefined a city’s skyline or to bring innovation to transportation systems to make a city great. Now I have realized that the places we call home and the community we build make a great city; not its convention centers, not its shopping promenades, and not its trendiest corridors. My idea of urban planning, social justice, and the way life works was turned upside down by Portland and I love it for that.

With that I want to introduce Rose City Residential to the people of this contentious, beautiful city. We are a team of writers, designers, and activists that want housing to work FOR the people that depend on it. I am eager to share my perspective and also contribute to the written coverage of issues impacting queer people with their housing. Especially in regards to accessibility, mobility, and building community.