Black Community Development

By Dr. Lisa K Bates

Originally published in longer form in State of Black Oregon 2015, Urban League


"This is gentrification: fundamental changes to the character of neighborhoods as those with economic means and racial privilege outbid and out-buy existing residents."


A Black community development framework must include:

Safe, decent, affordable housing must be at the core of community development programs. Black housing needs are great across households—from extremely low-income renters to moderate- income homeowners. More affordable housing, and more stable housing, are obvious priorities. Furthermore, we need a strong anti-displacement component in programs and projects, including a right to return for those involuntarily relocated through public policy and its consequences in the market.

We must develop meaningfully inclusive social and economic structures. When neighborhoods change in ways that reduce segregation and bring new economic opportunities, existing community members could benefit, with intentional inclusion, especially for those who are most likely to be displaced. An approach to lifting up people in place requires resources for education, workforce development, and job placement. These economic development programs should be targeted to growth industries to ensure Black participation in emerging areas.

New vitality in neighborhoods should activate new possibilities for successful Black entrepreneurship. The Oregonian values of creativity, innovation, and sustainability are all embodied within the Black community; given appropriate capital support and technical assistance, these potentials could be realized. 

Neighborhood organizations need authentic participation by community members who are vulnerable to displacement and economic precariousness. In a state and city that views public participation part of policy-making, Black civic engagement in neighborhoods is not only important for neighboring social ties, but also for decision-making and resource allocation. 

Finally, we must create a Black-centered approach to place-based racial justice. Black community must be fully engaged in building supportive institutions like schools and community-based organizations. Black-centered organizations in historical neighborhoods need support to continue to address persistent issues and to hold space for Black presence and organizing. Black community needs should also be addressed in their new neighborhoods with relevant and culturally appropriate programs. Existing organizations need to address institutionalized racism in their structures and approaches. We need a racial justice lens that is sharply focused on structures and systems that particularly affect Black people’s ability to thrive in place, including predatory lending and racist policing practices. 

Black community development needs to lift up new models that are rooted in Black history and experience. Displacement occurs in part due to lack of ownership—of property, housing, and businesses. Black community development approaches can encompass a range of ownership possibilities, not only individual but also collective and community ownership. Black history reveals collective values of rooting people in place and community, creating intergenerational opportunities, and building community-wide prosperity. For instance, it was African-Americans who created the first community land trusts. While mainstream urban development segregated by class and housing tenure, Black neighborhoods included economic integration and a mix of renters and owners, cooperative purchasing and investment, and financial contribution towards community institutions that served all. Now is the time to return to these traditions in order to stabilize the Black community. 

Gentrification and displacement are not inevitable. Black Oregonians have voiced a vision for neighborhoods in which the community can thrive. That vision for community development can be made real with a clear focus on racial justice and empowerment in place. 

-  Dr. Lisa Bates Portland, 2015