Is the City of Hood River aware of where it’s heading with its affordable housing policies? Consider the city’s application for rezoning Morrison Park to R-3. It may not be obvious at first, but approval of this proposal will be a major step toward separating the people in Hood River by income.
The neighborhood around the Morrison Park is already a low- to moderate-income area. The City’s proposed rezone of Morrison Park, and its future plans for increasing affordable housing, will accelerate this division of people in the city by income.
Nationally, there is a rising concern about this kind of separation. Income inequality has been rising in the U.S. for the past 40 years. And what experts call “residential income segregation” or “economic segregation” has risen along with it. As we Americans grow farther apart on the income scale, we are also moving apart from each other into our own separate neighborhoods.
In the City of Hood River, you can see this separation emerging in the neighborhood surrounding Morrison Park. Drive down Wasco Street between 13th and Rand Road, down Hope Avenue, and on Cascade Avenue, west of 18th Street.
Compare what you see with the rest of the city. Clearly, city housing is becoming divided by income. This is largely the result of the city’s previous zoning decisions.
And the city is on a path that will accelerate this separation:
1) The city is proposing to eliminate Morrison Park and rezone it to R-3 where a 100-plus unit apartment building for lower-income families will be built. This will add 300–400 lower-income residents to this area North of Cascade Avenue.
2) The city is negotiating with the Oregon Department of Transportation to replace their maintenance yard on Cascade Avenue with a low-income housing. This development will join the Sunset RV Park, Hood River Mobile Manor, and the City’s 39-unit apartment complex at Hood River Crossing — all homes for lower income residents.
3) The city’s Housing Needs Analysis shows that these actions will result in half of all subsidized housing being within a mile of Morrison Park.
This economic separation will divide and adversely affect the people of Hood River. Recent national studies show that it divides a city into two economic residential groups with different worldviews, who act and think differently, frequently dividing the community further.
It especially affects low- and middle-income families. The isolation of the well-off can lead to lower public and private investments in resources, services, and amenities like schools, parks, and public services.
Families with children are the most negatively affected. Studies show a link between neighborhood socioeconomic status and a variety of negative child and adolescent outcomes including psychological well-being, lower test scores, educational attainment, and teen pregnancy.
In the Morrison Park area, there is also the barrier of a heavily traveled state highway, Cascade Avenue. It is isolating and often dangerous to cross. Drive by Rio Bella apartments on Hope Avenue and consider what the parents and their children face if they want to cross Cascade to go to a school activity or visit a friend.
This separation by income also negatively affects the adults — their employment, wages, and career mobility. Studies show that the lack of exposure to middle- and upper-class role models and social networks is a major contributor to joblessness, wages, career mobility, and social problems.
For these reasons, rezoning Morrison Park may be unconstitutional. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a broader definition of what qualifies as racial discrimination under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include not only overt discrimination, but also policies that may seem fair on the surface, yet nevertheless adversely affect minorities.
The court ruled 5-4 in favor of a nonprofit group, which argued that a Texas agency’s tax incentives for providing low-income housing were discriminatory because they caused minorities to be segregated to high-poverty areas — areas with worse schools, higher mortality rates and fewer opportunities overall.
Rezoning Morrison Park to R-3 will further divide our community. The city needs to fully consider the consequences of how it is implementing its housing policies. There are other good options. The west side planning now underway, for example, is a great opportunity to disperse affordable housing throughout Hood River and unite us as a community.
Visit our website, www. hoodriverparks.com for more information and a detailed version of this paper.
Larry Jones lives in Hood River.