Hillside Park is a low-rent public housing community. Built in 1942, it has 100 small homes placed side by side just off Bus 75 in Milwaukie. At first glance, it’s idyllic. Lots of grass kept well-trimmed, flowers here and there. But oddly, there is not one soul to be seen, so I come back later.
On another visit, Geoffrey and I spot a guy limping on a crutch down the sidewalk. Says he can’t talk long. He’s on his way to Mike’s Drive-In for a corn dog. He lives in Hillside Manor. “I’ve lived in the Manor for 12 years. I have a one-bedroom unit with a good view of the city. My rent is $309 per month but it’s going up to $319. I want to stay there as long as I can.”
Hillside Manor, located within Hillside Park, is a nine-story, 100-unit apartment building with views all around. Behind the Manor is a big lawn with a paved path that includes stations for stretching and exercising. Next to the lawn is a community garden with raised beds of fruit, vegetables and flowers. Residents can tend their own private plot.
Sonja Souder, the Property Manager, has worked at Hillside for nine years. “The people are great and it’s a nice property. It has good transit connections with Bus 75 so close. I know all residents by their first name. Many would be living on the street without this place.”
There’s a years long waiting list to get into Hillside Manor – over 1,700 names. So many that the wait lists are now closed. Manor apartments don’t become available often – usually only when a death occurs or a resident moves out.
Some residents want out of Hillside Manor. They hope to move into a Hillside Park home. It’s more like their own place. At the same time, others who now live in these small Park residences want to move as well – into a Section 8 home outside Hillside. Those homes are hard to come by.
Her son says he doesn’t want to leave. He likes it and has made some friends. But she wants him to grow up somewhere else. Where the memories are better.
“People here are nice and look out for each other, but it’s a strange community,” a woman says while watering her flowers. “All kinds live here. Some are on drugs, some in rehab, some mentally challenged, disabled…” The woman is “super diabetic” and can’t work. Wants to find a better place for she and her 14-year old son to live. But they are stuck here. She knows it could be worse. They could be living in a tent on Springwater Trail, just down the road.
On another street, a woman with her mother and her eight-year-old son sit outside on wobbly lawn chairs. Three generations holding on together. She keeps checking her phone for news of a neighbor who is giving birth at a hospital.
“We know some of the people here but we haven’t been here that long,” she says. “We were on the waiting list for eight years. But I want to get into a Section 8 house. We need more bedrooms for all of us.”
Here are the facts. Portland is in desperate need of more affordable housing. Incomes are not rising as fast as the cost of housing. Shelter numbers are 30% higher than one year ago. And it’s going to get worse. New to the equation are the “newly homeless” (as service providers call them). They don’t need case management, assisted care, or addiction/mental health counseling. They just can’t afford their rent. Poverty, indeed, rules.