JADE Affordable Housing: A Q&A with the Project Team
Today, we break ground on the ROSE/APANO Affordable Mixed Use Development in Portland’s Jade District! The project is the culmination of a thorough public engagement process, with project manager Gauri Rajbaidya and lead designer Travis Dang acting as facilitators for the development team. Next year, the project will bring undersupplied one-, two- and three-bedroom units, and community and retail space to the corner of Southeast 82nd and Division. Rajbaidya and Dang share their experience on this community-driven effort:
Why was this project personally important to you?
Dang: I’ve really wanted to see the Jade District flourish. I have some personal connections to the area – I teach martial arts in the Jade, it’s where I go to satisfy my Asian food cravings, and I love coming out to the Jade Night Market. The area has a lot of potential and deserves investment in tying all these interesting elements together and enhancing its sense of place. I feel privileged to be a part of a project that engaged the community during the design process and will bring thoughtful design to an important corner of the Jade District.
Rajbaidya: At the time of this project’s design development, I was a renter in the Jade District, so it has remained important to be involved in this project. As development in Portland moves further east, we can be sure to see local residents being outpriced in the area. The diversity of demographics, particularly in this East Portland neighborhood, is unique but also vulnerable to gentrification and displacement. Being involved in, and advocating for major affordable housing projects in this neighborhood is something I’m passionate about.
You were involved in the Jade Visioning Plan in 2014. How did that effort prepare you for this housing project?
Rajbaidya: When we participated in the Jade visioning process, we heard the need for a community gathering space, more open green spaces, better sidewalks, places for seniors to rest when they take walks, and ways to sustain the night market. Not all these aspirations can be achieved at once, but we can strive to incorporate as many of the qualities into our work so that we can build towards the community vision, piece by piece. When we were working on design concepts for this affordable housing project, we were really conscious of making this building part of the fabric of that community vision.
Dang: The Jade Visioning Plan was supported by a really rigorous information gathering process. Being a part of it made me appreciate the amount work that goes into really effective community engagement. There were numerous facilitators, translators and coordinators that were instrumental in bringing the community together over several workshops. This process gave me a deeper understanding of the site and its context.
The engagement process here was robust – one focus group and four community meetings. What did you learn about receiving and managing so much input from stakeholders?
Dang: We had to be really organized about the feedback we received and how it aligned with the project goals and priorities. Some of the lessons learned were setting expectations and being clear about the purpose of the community meetings. We had to be flexible about when to transition from being a facilitator to being more of an educator, explaining why certain design decisions were made or what constraints the project was facing. One of our community meetings was really effective because we broke out into different stations where we could explain different aspects of the project. Rather than the typical set up, where the development team presents in front of an audience, we provided stations where community members could go with specific questions and have direct dialog with the design team.
Rajbaidya: It was very important to the development team and Metro that we be good neighbors, and so SERA played a big role in facilitating community dialogue. That meant creating alignments and mutual understanding around conflicting goals, substantive dialogue with the neighbors, and listening and responding to a lot of their concerns. A big lesson we gained from this process is that there are a lot of misconceptions about the impact of affordable housing to the community, and that mitigating the misinformation is critical to gaining neighborhood support for the project.
What are the design moves you’re particularly proud of?
Rajbaidya: I am really happy that there is a community gathering space that APANO will own and operate. Community space was a big theme during the community visioning process. APANO managed the JAMS space at this site during the ongoing predevelopment phase of the site, and it has been very successful in its use by the community. The new community space will continue to be a great resource.
Dang: The plaza facing Division. I’m very happy that we were able to make it an integral part of the project. It will complement ground floor programs and could eventually support the Jade Night Market. It’s a vast improvement over the existing condition and will fulfill one of the important goals coming out of the Jade Visioning Plan.