Portland & Multnomah County, Oregon


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

Healthy Active Communities in Portland addressed creative tension in its efforts to improve low-income, multi-family housing developments and prevent childhood obesity in East Portland by addressing other health issues (such as asthma) and resident concerns where feasible. It chose to advance educational approaches to healthy housing over regulatory ones that might deter further development of multi-family rental housing.

For more information, read the full story.

July 2014

The city of Portland is known for its commitment to healthy living, particularly active transportation. The city has a well-deserved reputation for high rates of walking and bicycling, due in large part to many years of intentional transportation planning, policies and infrastructure. In addition, a network of progressive non-profit agencies and funding partners work to increase the availability of affordable healthy food in many underserved neighborhoods in East and North Portland. However, many obstacles persist, which put healthy food and safe places for physical activity out of reach for many of Portland’s most vulnerable communities.

Low-income children in and around Portland are the most likely to be overweight or obese. Paradoxically, nearly one in four Multnomah County children goes hungry. Many of these children live in multi-family dwellings that are either public housing, properties managed by non-profit organizations or private-market apartments.

In East Portland, many families live in neighborhoods with high poverty, prevalent crime and inadequate housing. East Portland was rezoned over the past 40 years to accommodate more multi-family housing and, as a result,  has concentrated many social and economic problems to one side of the city. While healthy eating and active living advocates have gained traction by improving streets, parks, food retail venues, farmers markets and community gardens, “healthy housing” has emerged as a challenging but critical focus area for improving the health of low-income residents. Portland’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partnership learned directly from children and their parents – housing tenants – about their specific challenges in East Portland.

Amy Gilroy, project director for Portland’s HKHC initiative, describes what families are up against. “People’s homes are often far from markets that sell fresh produce and culturally-relevant foods. And for some families, lack of kitchen storage and preparation space make it difficult to prepare meals at home, which increases their reliance on unhealthy convenience foods. Children also lack adequate open space and safe places to play and be physically active. Many multi-family units are served by incomplete sidewalk and transit networks and typically lack bicycle storage space.”

Led by the Oregon Public Health Institute, the HKHC partnership’s goal has been to improve health-related conditions in low-income housing developments in the city. HKHC Steering Committee members include the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), Community Cycling Center, Portland Housing Bureau, Hacienda CDC, ROSE CDC, Northwest Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. BPS also led the Health and Housing Partnership, through which the Community Alliance of Tenants, Center for Intercultural Organizing and the Housing Development Center addressed broader public health issues affecting residents living in private market rate housing.

The HKHC partners have not only worked directly to empower tenants to identify and improve unhealthy conditions, they have also engaged landlords, property managers and developers of multi-family housing.

Key accomplishments:

  • In 2011, Village Market, a community-driven food retail business, opened in the New Columbia mixed-income housing development. This cooperative corner store sells fresh, local and healthy foods at affordable prices. Previously, this community and adjacent neighborhoods had no nearby source of fresh produce or other healthy foods. HKHC partners assisted Village Gardens, Janus Youth Programs and Home Forward to develop a business plan and launch this unique retail establishment.
  • Also at New Columbia, the Community Cycling Center and other HKHC partners led the development of a bicycle repair hub and bike park. These projects were funded in part with outside grant awards and now serve as a place where young people can fix their bicycles, share tools and learn riding skills.
  • In 2012, HKHC partners published a zoning code scan and recommendations for policy changes that would help set multi-family design standards for rental housing in Portland.
  • With help from Kaiser Permanente and Northwest Health Foundation, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and other HKHC partners published the Portland Healthy Housing Handbook to help create healthier living environments for residents of multi-family rental housing properties. This resource was launched publicly at a 2013 forum for property owners and landlords to make rental housing healthier and safer.
  • Residents from Elliot Square and Unthank Plaza multi-family housing developments worked with HKHC partners and Village Gardens, to create a community garden that serves 30 families.
  • As lead agency for HKHC, Oregon Public Health Institute and other partners developed best practices and standards for Health Eating and Active Living (HEAL) in multi-family housing developments. HEAL standards for multi-family housing design were presented to the Residential Development and Compatibility Policy Expert Group for the City of Portland Comprehensive Plan update.

Portland & Multnomah County, Oregon