A New NE Portland Housing Unit Hopes to Give Refuge to African Americans and Vets

The apartment building for families displaced from the Eliot neighborhood is also a behavioral clinic for vets and others.

By Kayla Brock January 16, 2018

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It’s around 10 a.m on a Friday morning at the corner of NE MLK and Morris in the Eliot neighborhood. Trucks fill the site and men in hard hats walk past, bringing equipment in and out of two in-progress buildings. Construction cranes are a common sight in Portland in 2018, but here something entirely different is rising: the Garlington Center.

Opening this spring, the Garlington Center and apartment complex comprise a $25 million, 1.5-acre health care clinic and apartment facility, giving housing priority to African Americans who were or had relatives displaced from Eliot back in the 1980s. The 29,000-square-foot clinic will feature wellness rooms, a kitchen, a pharmacy, mental health services, addiction services, primary care, and over 20 rooms for physicians, nurses, psychologists, and health care specialists to see patients.

The path here wasn't straightforward. The Eliot Neighborhood Board wasn’t in favor of another apartment complex when it was proposed.

“They wanted something more commercial rather than social service-oriented, but now they see it as an investment in the neighborhood,” says Jim Hvala, vice president of housing for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, which is leading the project.

Applications for the 52-unit apartment opened last October and flooded in.

“We had over 400 applicants," says Hvala. "Of those, 80 people qualified on eminent domain—meaning they or their family's homes were taken away.”

A number of units will also be given to veterans and people with mental illness. The apartments feature on-floor laundry, climate-controlled rooms, and office space on the ground floor for community events.

Cascadia’s goal isn't just to provide care for those experiencing mental health issues, addiction challenges, trauma, poverty, and homelessness. The organization also wants the development to reflect the residents they wish to bring back in.

“People have myths about mental illness," Hvala says. "I think the neighborhood saw the value of what we do, and with this development we’ve done our best to try to hire a local and diverse workforce."

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Colas Construction, owned by Andrew Colas—an African American who grew up in Northeast Portland—and SEA Construction (behind such local projects as 10 Barrel Brewing, Oregon City Public Library, and the Portland Mercado) are working on the Garlington Center.

Arvie Smith, a local artist known for his bold paintings about the black experience, is creating a mural on the side of Garlington Center, facing NE Monroe Street. The mural spotlights the history of the surrounding neighborhood.

Says Hvala, “We want to create an environment that shows that everyone who is here is working on moving ahead in their life."

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