By CORY ELIA
The Lents neighborhood has historically been a very impoverished area of Portland and has struggled to maintain the quality of life for its residence, the is the governing body of this area.
Over the last year, Lents Neighborhood Association has has been challenged to keep a full board intact and recently just experienced an election last month. Sabina Urdes is the new chair of the association and the first meeting with the new board was held on October 23, 2018.
The meeting consisted of about 40 -50 leaders and members of the Lents neighborhood, which consists of about 22,000 residents. The meeting was separated into two main agendas for the meeting.
The first agenda item was to discuss the potential of a food co-op coming to the neighborhood; it lasted for about 30 minutes. People’s Food Co-op already has a location at 3029 SE 21st Ave in Portland. Due to the void felt in the Lents neighborhood by the Fosters Fred Meyer’s closing, People’s wishes to seize the opportunity to expand.
Sofie Sherman-Burton is People’s Food Co-op’s Marketing & Membership Manager and was the main speaker for the store. She explained that one possible location for the store is on 92nd Ave and Reedway St. Membership with the store is only $180 for a lifetime which is often split into $30 annual payments. Customers input would determine what items would be stocked if the new store opened.
A major concern that was brought up was what the potential chance for financial inequality seen in the form of food prices. To this Sherman-Burton rebutted by saying that People’s would conduct market and demographic studies as well as implement financial planning within the store to ensure that residents would have access to reasonably prices groceries. One woman even shared a story about the cherished memories she had about People’s while growing up in the Clinton neighborhood.
The next agenda item addressed K-12 schools within the Lents neighborhood. The panel featured State Rep. Jeff Reardon, a board member from Portland Public School named Mike Rosen and the board chair of David Douglas School District, Frieda Christopher.
Facts were shared such as the average number of students per high school is 1,800 and each school only has four councilors. This means each councilor is responsible for 560 students. Rearden even explained that “K-12 is underfunded by $2 billion state-wide” and that most schools are experiencing a lack of teachers resulting in over crowded classrooms. This results is that teachers are often unable to give personalized attention to students, limiting their ability to receive a quality education.
Some more positive information was also shared like the fact that two new middle schools will be opening in NE Portland and that Grant High School has been undergoing major renovations and is almost completed.
The main question postulated by Sherman-Burton was “how can LNA help support efforts in the form of advocacy?” to this Christopher stated “We are always in need of volunteers.” And Reardon stated outright “I need people to testify occasionally!”
There were several concerns that came up during this agenda: a general lack of parent accountability, parents being more active in their children’s education, as well as proper disciplinary actions for misbehaving students. Christopher responded to this by stating that each school has two behavioral specialists which are in place to help with students.
Another issue that came up was that schools were already over-crowded and that the demographic of the student body could change due to displacement as a result of gentrification. An insight shared by Reardon was that while Lents does not have the room for another high school is does have the room to add a new middle school, that displacement is an unfortunate side-effect of gentrification. The school district would be conducting facility study to figure out exact what that might look like.
One of the final concerns brought up by a parent of a Kelly Elementary student was that the closest low-income housing happens to be located south of 92nd Ave and Flavel St where a large number of the houseless in the neighborhood congregate. She said the children have to walk past a large houseless camp to get to school, one mother saying that a young girl was even “propositioned” and that students at Lents Elementary were having similar experiences.
Next came a news update about things going on in Lents like:
Portland Homeless Family Solutions has eight formerly homeless family housed in a new shelter opening on SE 92nd and Tolman St. with plans to house another six families. The building they are using is currently under renovations and will be completed by February 2019.
The 126 affordable housing units at Oliver Station have been 100 percent occupied; that a syringe disposal box pilot program is being launched in partnership with Multnomah County, the City of Portland, Trimet, and downtown’s Clean & Safe program. Fifteen new sharps disposal boxes would be added throughout the city. The last 30 mins of the meeting were dedicated to a vote to fill the last remaining spots left empty on the board.
The new board members are:
Marci Addy is now the board secretary. She’s a high school English teacher of 13 years.
Edward Marihart was elected as at-large board member. He has served on several other neighborhood association boards where he’s lived, and said he hopes to represent the Mt. Scott area of the neighborhood.
Leisl Wehmueller was elected transportation chair. She works with refugee and immigrant communities of East Portland at Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization.