Reparation Leaders: PDX Housing Solidarity Project
- How would you describe your group’s philosophy or approach to reparations?
PDX Housing Solidarity Project is a collective of Portland-based activists organizing people to redistribute wealth to support homeownership for our Black and Native neighbors. We do this through:
- Political education about racialized disparities in homeownership—and what to do about it. We host educational trainings, co-working sessions, panel discussions, and other events. You can check out our past events here!
- Community-building to practice housing-related wealth redistribution. Since wealth redistribution of this kind is often unprecedented, a lot of questions come up — everything from tax implications and legalities to emotional processing and wondering what is “enough” — so we aim to build a supportive community that leads to more action.
- Connecting people with wealth to redistribution opportunities. We have a listserv-based system to connect the prospective homebuyers we’re working with directly to people with money or other resources to support.
We kicked off in spring 2022, and so far we have supported 7 families in becoming homeowners!
We give people with housing-related wealth a tangible way to demonstrate solidarity with Black people in our communities. What do we mean by housing-related wealth? We ask people to consider:
- Have you benefited from the rising cost of real estate?
- Did you have access to intergenerational wealth or relatives that supported you to buy a home? (For example, did your parents or grandparents chip in for your down payment?)
- Do you benefit annually from the mortgage interest deduction on your taxes?
- Have you inherited money based on your family’s racial or economic access to homeownership?
Some folks consider this work to be mutual aid, while others consider it a form of reparations. While many movement leaders define reparations as requiring action across governments, institutions, and the private sector, we created the PDX Housing Solidarity Project to help people take action in their daily lives — while we organize collectively for reparations on a national scale. We are grateful to the Movement for Black Lives for their resources on reparations as well as other Black-led organizations’ long-standing activism.
We’ll also note that no money passes through us — we simply make connections between prospective homebuyers and people with resources. And, we are not a nonprofit, which allows us to be nimble, avoid requiring homebuyers to comply with the red tape or grant applications required by other organizations, and challenge redistributors to see the value of their acts beyond tax write-offs.
2. What was the “nexus event” for the PDX Housing Solidarity Project? In other words, what events sparked its formation?
One of our co-founders, Annie Moss, was ready to sell their second home in 2020. Annie, who had been practicing wealth redistribution with Resource Generation and reflecting deeply on their values, determined that home was important to them and wanted to extend the benefits of homeownership to someone else. Specifically, they wanted to transfer ownership of the home, which was in Portland’s historically Black and now heavily gentrified neighborhood of Albina, to a Black family – and maximizing their own profit in the sale wasn’t a priority.
Annie struggled to find guidance about how to do this, and eventually connected with Randal Wyatt, an activist who had created an organization called Taking Ownership PDX, which does critical work renovating and reviving Black-owned homes to enable Black homeowners to age in place, generate wealth, and deter predatory investors and realtors to deflect the gentrification process.
Annie thought Randal may know someone who would be interested in buying their home. But Randal himself was interested — he couldn’t afford to purchase a home in the Albina neighborhood he grew up in, with average home prices now around $700,000. Annie ended up selling the home to Randal and his two sons for just what was left on the mortgage, gifting them around $400,000 in equity.
After that, Annie and Randal heard interest from friends, community members, and people involved with Resource Generation who wanted to do something similar and to spread the word that such acts of redistribution were possible. A handful of organizers gathered and spent some time designing structures and resources to make this happen, and today we’ve grown our organizing group, created a listserv of 120 people interested in housing-related wealth redistribution, and built relationships with a number of aspiring Black and Native homebuyers in Portland.
You can read more about PDX Housing Solidarity Project’s origin story in this recent Oregon Public Broadcasting article.
Randal Wyatt and Annie Moss, two of PDX Housing Solidarity Project’s co-founders, sit in front of the home Annie sold to Randal for what was left on the mortgage — gifting him and his family a large amount of equity Annie had built up in the home.
- Can you share with us a recent “success” story?
Yes! One of our homebuyers grew up in Northeast Portland. He’s a single dad of 4 kids (ages 7, 9, 10, and 12). He has a great job as an engineer, but without intergenerational wealth and in Portland’s current housing market, it was challenging to afford a home big enough for his family of 5. His hope was to buy a house in a safe neighborhood – a home that will stay in the family for decades so that his kids can bring their kids over to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving.
He had been trying to buy a house since 2012, and we started working with him in September 2022. Within 8 months, he had found a home.
The PDX Housing Solidarity Project community supported his journey in many ways, including:
- $60,000 in cash gifts from 10 redistributing households to relieve his credit card debt (which improved his credit score) and contribute to his downpayment.
- A no-interest loan for $9,000, the amount the IRS owed him for a delayed tax refund.
- Leveraging $355,000 in retirement savings to buy a home in cash. This homebuyer’s dream had been to buy a home in need of repairs that he could use his skills to fix up. He found a house that was perfect for him and his family that had sustained water damage, which made the home affordable for his family but also meant that a mortgage company wouldn’t finance it. So an organizer of PDX HSP purchased the house for $355,000 in cash temporarily taken from their retirement funds, helped him fix up the house to meet appraisal, and is now in the process of selling it to him for the same amount – $355,000 – even though it will be worth much more by then. This is the first time we’ve done this, and it’s a great example of a way for someone to leverage their retirement savings temporarily.
- A homebuyer navigator from PDX HSP helped him apply for and receive tribal citizenship and apply for several first-time homebuyer grants and loans from a local nonprofit.
We learn more each time we support a Black and/or Native first-time homebuyer, and we’re grateful to this homebuyer for exploring possibilities and learning alongside us.
- What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities with working in Portland?
One of the great things about Portland is that, compared to more conservative places, there are many people talking the talk of racial equity. We are excited to help them walk the walk. However, like all American cities, Portland has a long history of racism in city planning and housing policy. These systems are not taught in schools and often not spoken about openly, meaning our history of racism is both deeply entrenched and largely hidden from view.
The state of Oregon was founded with a “Black exclusion law” in its constitution that banned slavery, but also banned Black people from residing or owning property in the state. Scholars call this an attempt to make Oregon a “white utopia”. The Donation Land Claim Act granted vast swaths of stolen Indigenous land to white settlers for free, which formed the land ownership patterns we see today.
And Portland’s city building efforts include a history of exclusionary zoning, racial covenants, racial steering, redlining, “urban renewal” through eminent domain, predatory lending, and other practices by the public and private sectors. Today in Oregon, about two thirds of white people own their homes, compared to one third of Black people, and the numbers are similar for other communities of color.
PDX HSP tries to address this by using education as an outreach and recruitment strategy — many of our events begin with a history lesson that tells a part of the story of how we’ve arrived at the deep racial disparities in homeownership we see today. We hope that equipping people with this knowledge — and, importantly, actions they can take to change it — will help Portlanders live up to their expressed goals of racial equity.
- What message would you have for the “reparations curious” learning about your organization?
Welcome! None of us are experts, and we are all learning as we go, drawing from generations of activism by Black and Indigenous leaders and examples from non-Black and non-Indigenous people who have conspired with them.
While we advocate strongly and urgently for governmental-scale reparations, we are ready to do something within our own power in our daily lives. This looks different for everyone based on their own identity and where they are in life, but it’s never too late to start planning and/or redistributing. For example, younger folks can give what they can now and plan bigger actions for later, and people approaching or in retirement can think about ways they can best use the assets they have access to.
And redistribution can happen at any scale. This could mean everything from chipping in $25 to a fundraiser, directing a percentage of your monthly income to racial justice organizations, redistributing the profit when you sell a house, or deeding your land to an Indigenous organization.
At any time, we invite the “reparations curious” to deeply consider what is “enough” for them, practice building security in ways other than wealth accumulation, and push beyond their comfort zone or the comfort zones they have been encouraged to adopt.
- How can we support the PDX Housing Solidarity Project?
Spread the word to your family and friends, especially if they live in or have built wealth in Portland! And talk to your community about reparations, wealth redistribution, and racial justice, wherever they may live.
Additionally, you can make a donation to Taking Ownership PDX, one of our partner organizations. Taking Ownership renovates and revives Black-owned homes as an anti-gentrification and housing security strategy. Recurring donations and/or large gifts are especially helpful.
Thank you so much!