Exploring a Community-Controlled TIF District

We love our neighborhood, and together we can shape its future.
Cully is a diverse, vibrant place full of creative, compassionate people from all walks of life. However, rising rents and property values are threatening our community — especially low-income households and people of color who are being displaced. We don’t have to stand by and allow this to happen. A coalition of seven non-profit organizations, all based here in Cully, is determined that we can shape the future of our neighborhood to preserve and create opportunities for those who would otherwise be priced-out and locked-out by market forces.

The seven organizations are:

Our organizations have been working hard work for years to prevent displacement and make Cully a great place to live: building affordable housing, preserving mobile home parks, acquiring land, improving our environment, and supporting small businesses. But with property values and rents on the rise, and private investment flowing into the neighborhood, we need to scale up our efforts now, before it is too late.

In order to respond to this challenge, our organizations will work together in 2019 to explore the potential creation of a new, community-controlled “tax increment financing” (TIF) district in the Cully neighborhood. TIF is a policy tool that can be used by city governments to redirect some of the property taxes already being paid within a specific geographic area, and use those funds for development projects within the designated neighborhood. While there has never been a TIF district in Cully, we are well aware that TIF has been used in the past — including here in Portland — to pay for projects that drive up property values and rents, and therefore force existing residents out of their neighborhoods. Communities of color, especially African Americans, have been hit the hardest. However, we believe it may be possible to re-purpose this tool and use it in a very different way.

We propose using TIF exclusively for projects that specifically and strategically benefit low-income people and people of color. TIF is a tool for collecting money. It is what that money is spent on that determines whether the tool will create just or unjust outcomes. Where TIF has often been used in the past to pay for projects that drive gentrification and displacement, we want to use it for the opposite purpose: to fight back against gentrification, prevent displacement, and expand opportunities for people of color and low-income people both now and for generations to come.

In addition to using TIF funds for a radically different purpose, we believe that the funds should be controlled in a new way as well. Decisions about how to spend this powerful resource should be made by the Cully community, and specifically by those whose lives and livelihoods are most impacted by the status quo of rising rents, rising housing costs, and lack of business and employment opportunities.

Last fall, our organizations sent this letter to Prosper Portland, the City agency that governs the use of Tax Increment Financing, sharing our intention to explore whether this tool can be adapted to benefit low-income people and people of color here in Cully.

You’ll be hearing from us!
We look forward to engaging with the Cully community over the coming months as we explore different ideas for how governance of TIF funds could be structured to ensure community-control and produce outcomes that benefit people of color and lower-income residents. And — if after extensive community engagement and research we are convinced that this will be an effective tool to fight gentrification and prevent displacement — as we work together to develop a proposal to the city government to create Portland’s first community-controlled TIF district.

We are also actively reaching out to community-based organizations in other neighborhoods, especially those with existing TIF districts, to explore how we can coordinate our efforts to ensure that the tool of TIF is used to produce just outcomes for people of color and low-income residents citywide, not just in Cully.

In the meantime, you can send questions or comments about this project to tif@livingcully.org

As this webpage is further developed, we will add a list of your questions, along with answers (if we have them) or a plan to find the answers.

Presentation shared at the Cully Association of Neighbors meeting on 1/8/2019: