Innovative Housing, Inc. Newsletter
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Summer 2020

From IHI's Executive Director
Sarah J. Stevenson

This letter is for white people. I've spent a lot of time over the last couple months sitting with my whiteness and thinking about how it has affected my life experiences. I've celebrated many changes that have taken place recently, but I've also been challenged by some of them. It isn't easy to learn and adopt new perspectives and set aside a lifetime of personal experiences that support belief systems and institutions that have always seemed beneficial. Yet, that is what we are being asked to do. I've had a lot of conversations with people I know and love over the last few weeks who fully embrace equity but are having a hard time with the idea of defunding the police. Others are struggling with name changes, removal of art and statues, or policies that explicitly preference Black and brown people.

I understand. Change of any sort is hard, especially when you haven't fully internalized the drivers behind it. In this regard, white people are way behind people of color, who have centuries of experience informing the need for change. I'd like to share a few tools/strategies that have helped me recently.

First, resist the urge to defend. Try not to let your initial emotional reactions dictate your final opinion about something.

Second, figure out what is really driving your feelings on an issue. Dig a little deeper, sit a little longer, and identify the real gain/loss from any given change (what are you really losing in comparison to what someone else is gaining?).

Third, collect more perspectives. Don't listen to only one voice (just as white people don't all think the same, Black people also have many opinions) and don't cherry pick voices that support a single position until you have taken the time to listen to a broad range of ideas. Dive into those internet search tunnels and fill your head with history, data, and personal stories different from yours. Listen to webinars and podcasts and watch television shows, documentaries, and movies about different experiences with the systems we have been taught to embrace. So much information is available!

Fourth, don't be colorblind. In order to truly center Black voices, you need to see and value people in their entirety. To understand the need for change, we must recognize that policies affect people differently based on their skin color.

Fifth, take time to process all of this and normalize "new" concepts. The more I read, the more I understand, and the more I sit with new ideas, the less threatening they become. I'm saying this to you as a white person who is working the same program. No matter how "good" we want to be (or think we are), we rely on our own experiences to interpret the world and we only know what we know. To get comfortable with the changes we are seeing and still need to come, we must push beyond our personal universe of knowledge.

Finally, embrace the "both and" rather than the "either or" mode of thinking. It goes like this: my experiences with police have been positive and Black and brown people have experienced something different and harmful. Believing that Black people have been treated badly by police does not mean that police have not helped you or that your experiences are not valid. In fact, this is a great example of white privilege. If we want all members of our community to feel the same sense of safety when they see law enforcement officers, we must embrace the need for fundamental change in policing.

Our life experiences are unique because we are white and we are surrounded by systems explicitly created to benefit white people. Sitting silent and supporting the status quo perpetuates racism. That doesn't necessarily mean those of us who have a hard time embracing change are racist. That means we have blind spots and work to do. We have benefited from and had positive experiences with racist policies and institutions. Now that we know this (and we have been put on notice), it is up to us to inform ourselves, listen to Black and brown voices, BELIEVE them, and support the changes they tell us we need to make. If we elect not to do this, then we are choosing to act in a racist way. Ignorance is no longer an excuse (if it ever was) and inaction is not a neutral position.
IHI and Coronavirus

A global pandemic sure has a way of making us re-examine how we do business! Those of us who didn't believe in telecommuting were forced to adjust and we all learned a thing or two about technology. IHI's 12 staff members marched forward like champs, practicing grace and patience on a daily basis as we navigated uncharted territory.

Those were the early days. As it became clear this was a long-term situation, IHI adapted further. We were fortunate/unfortunate to have acquired a large mansion in May, which we had intended to open to the public as a hostel and event space. Those 
IHI's temporary offices at the Mann House
plans were dashed by coronavirus so IHI temporarily moved its offices into the vacant building in June, giving us eyes on the building and remote workspace outside of our homes. In this space, we are largely able to carry on business as usual during this very unusual time.

Delivering services to people living in our properties is not as easy. IHI's resident services team has been indomitable as they strive to maintain contact while working remotely to make sure residents have food, medicine, and other essentials, along with moral support to get through this very challenging time. It is well documented that Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color, low-income households, and people with chronic health conditions. These are our residents. IHI staff is doing everything it can to help residents manage the financial, emotional, and physical strain of the pandemic, but it is overwhelming. We are extremely concerned about the long-term effects of all of these stressors, along with socio-economic educational disparities that are likely to result from prolonged distance learning.

In our buildings, IHI is working to keep residents safe and housed. We are not pursuing rent-related evictions or charging late fees. Property managers are working onsite, maintenance staff is continuing to disinfect surfaces in common areas like laundry rooms and mailboxes, and we have scheduled additional cleaning to supplement building staff's work. Sadly, most common areas are closed for use. Our rent collection rate is 80% across the portfolio, with some properties as low as 53%. Reduced rent collection will eventually create operating problems and it is having an immediate impact on IHI's cash flow. Luckily, IHI is well reserved and better able to weather the storm than most of our residents.

From a policy standpoint, IHI is advocating for additional rent assistance and ongoing eviction moratoriums - the last thing our community needs during a global health crisis is to force thousands of households into homelessness. Fortunately, our City, County, and State understand the need and are mobilizing resources as quickly as they can - IHI is using its voice to support prioritizing Black, indigenous, and other households of color, targeting resources to the lowest-income households, and reducing barriers to access so people who need help the most can get it. If you are looking for ways to assist, here are a few organizations that are providing critical support to households in need:

IHI received great news in the midst of the pandemic that will result in 40 additional affordable rental homes being added to the Anna Mann House!  As IHI was preparing to close on the property, the City was going through the Better Housing by Design process to revise development and design standards in Portland's multi-dwelling zones outside the Central City.  This created an opportunity for IHI to request that the Mann House property be upzoned to match adjacent zoning.  We were thrilled when City Council agreed, thereby allowing 40 additional units of housing on the site.

Rendering of The Anna Mann House, with two new buildings, by Emerick Architects

We informed the Housing Bureau and submitted a request for additional funds to build these extra units.  In spite of working remotely, City furloughs, and budget challenges, PHB was able to secure approval from the Affordable Housing Bond Stakeholder Advisory Group for 40 new apartment homes (a mix of 1, 2, and 3-bedrooms).  These new units will be created in a third building on the site (the building at the top of the rendering), increasing the Anna Mann House project from 88 to 128 affordable units.  The design and development team are pushing ahead full speed to get the project through historic design review and permitting so we can close and start construction in Spring 2021.
Embracing Change

IHI has long been aware that we work in an industry steeped in systemic racism. Blatant, legal housing discrimination, race-based displacement, disinvestment, and racist lending policies intentionally created extreme inequality in housing conditions, affordability, access, and homeownership rates for Black households. Even after the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, rampant discrimination and predatory practices created unfair and unequal housing outcomes for Black and brown communities that continue today. If you'd like to read more about how we got here, there are many great resources available online, including: and

Artwork by HerNameWasKyra, commissioned
by IHI for the Erickson Fritz Apartments
Housing is on the frontline of what needs to change in our country. Housing inequality leads to educational inequality, wealth gaps, and health disparities that Covid-19 has made impossible to ignore. Affordable housing moves us in the right direction, but it is slow to develop and sits solidly within multiple systems (real estate, housing, tax code) that need to be challenged and reformed. IHI is committed to becoming an anti-racist organization and is re-examining how we work, who we work with, and who benefits. We stand as allies with the communities, Nations, and organizations that amplify BIPOC voices and are leading the movement for racial justice. We pledge to continue centering these voices as we work with our partners and funders to make needed change in our industry. 

Merwyn Moving Forward

We are grateful to Silco Construction and all of our subs at Merwyn who have masked up and continued to work through the pandemic. The Merwyn is showing us just how challenging a long-vacant, historic rehab built on 100-year old piles can be -- the team has tackled extensive dry rot (even more than we knew), sewer line issues, power vault location obstacles, water table problems, and environmental contamination. And is still on schedule to deliver housing in Spring 2021!

           Merwyn west wall, before.                     Merwyn west wall, after.

Supporting Residents

IHI staff, specifically Resident Service Coordinators (RSC's) who are IHI's frontline responders, have stepped up in creative ways to support IHI residents during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd's murder. It has been an extremely stressful time for all of us, but many of IHI's residents have been particularly hard hit by the health impacts of Covid-19, financial instability related to loss of work, and challenges managing school closures and distance learning. We also recognize the emotional energy being expended by people of color in this country every day and especially now during the BLM movement. IHI staff, who are primarily working remotely, are reaching out to residents via phone, text, email, and regular mail to provide emotional support and make sure their basic needs are being met. RSC's have secured donations and coordinated food distribution from multiple sources including the Oregon Food Bank, Lift UP, four different school districts, booster groups/PTAs, and churches. They are helping frustrated residents secure rent and utility assistance, apply for unemployment, and get internet access and devices to manage virtual schooling. They are also handing out supplemental educational materials, providing free face masks, distributing books they collected at IHI's book drive, surprising residents with socially distant popsicle treats, coordinating summer activities for children including a summer reading challenge, and collaborating with partners to facilitate art projects. IHI is incredibly proud of our staff who are giving so much of themselves to support both the physical and emotional needs of our residents.

Book Drive & Summer Reading Challenge
We had such a great turnout that we are planning a second book drive this fall.  If you have extra books you'd like to donate, please hang on to them and keep an eye out for our next book drive announcement!

IHI is extremely grateful for the phenomenal response we got to our May book drive!  With schools and libraries closed, our residents were having a hard time accessing books. Thanks to generous donors, we collected more than 1,000 books that we quarantined for safety and then distributed throughout our portfolio.
Having access to books also allows us to offer a summer reading challenge for resident youth to encourage them to keep reading all summer long!
Innovative Housing Inc.