By Liza Honaker, Staff Writer
A hospital and the city of Portland, Oregon are being sued for forcibly displacing over 80 predominantly Black families from the central Albina area in the 1970s. The lawsuit was filed with the Portland Division of the District of Oregon on December 8, 2022, by 27 former Albina residents and descendants of former residents. The complaint alleges that Legacy Emanuel Hospital (LEH) used intimidation tactics to coerce Black residents into selling their homes without just compensation. LEH told Albina residents that it needed their homes for its expansion, threatening that the city would take their homes forcefully if the families did not relocate willingly. Once LEH purchased these homes, it left them to sit empty and neglected in what was formerly a bustling Black community with generational roots and economic potential. The city of Portland took the remaining residents’ homes under its eminent domain authority.
The lawsuit presents a compelling theory that the city of Portland and LEH engaged in conspiracy to forcibly displace Albina residents, violating their civil rights under 42 USC § 1985. To support this theory, the families allege a two-phase execution. During phase one, LEH entered into a secret agreement with Portland before the hospital began purchasing Albina homes stipulating that LEH would be compensated for its purchases as well as demolition costs. The complaint states that LEH was eventually compensated for its expenditures in the form of tax credits. After LEH had purchased these homes for little to no compensation, it either demolished them, leaving behind empty lots, or it allowed the homes to sit neglected. In phase two, the city made a finding that the area was blighted, which enabled it to use its eminent domain powers to displace any leftover families and take control of remaining residences. Many of these homes would be worth more than $500,000 in today’s housing market.
Most of the plaintiffs’ evidentiary support hinges on timing. Through threatening forthcoming city intervention, LEH began its efforts to purchase Albina homes before Portland approved the hospital’s expansion. After LEH’s purchases, the city released a report that it found the area to be blighted. Only then did the city announce its intention to support the hospital’s expansion and cure the blight by commencing eminent domain proceedings.
Former Albina residents and their descendants are seeking financial compensation for the ongoing harm caused by LEH and Portland, categorizing it as a public nuisance. Practices like redlining and restrictive covenants led Black families to settle in the Albina area, as they were unable to gain housing in other Portland neighborhoods.
“For plaintiffs, the loss of their family homes has meant the deprivation of inheritance, intergenerational wealth, community, and opportunity,” states the filed complaint. The families who rooted themselves in Albina invested in their community and cultivated it into an economically valuable area. However, instead of reaping the benefits from this investment, their homes and land were taken from them, often left unused or converted into parking lots.