East Portland’s neighborhood coalition celebrates first year in new home

See why Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard came by personally to pick up their “rent check” for the next year …

Chairs of East Portland Neighborhoods applaud Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard when he arrives at the first annual celebration of the group’s new coalition office.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For years, the East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO) was hidden away in offices located behind the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct. Space was tight, and there was no room to expand.

And, it looked as if EPNO was about to get a rent hike – sapping funds that could be used to aid direct neighborhood programs.

The solution for their office problem came from an unexpected source: A Portland City Commissioner, Randy Leonard. A year ago, Leonard arranged for EPNO to move into the former offices of the Hazelwood Water District, nearly rent-free.

East Portland Neighbors executive Ray Hites, presents the “rent check” for the EPNO offices to Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard.

Rent comes due
When the EPNO neighborhood chairs met for their monthly session in October, the atmosphere was festive. They were celebrating their first year in their new location – a building that they say has worked out well for them.

Because the coalition’s office is owned by the Portland Water Bureau, their new “landlord” – Commissioner Leonard – came by to pick up the rent check.

Judging from the expression on his face, the warm greeting Leonard received from the group surprised him.

After being presented with the official rent check – in the amount of $24.00, a dollar per month for two years – Leonard recounted how this successful relocation took place.

“One of the first things I did when Portland Water Bureau was put in my portfolio,” Leonard said, “was to ask for a listing of all bureau-owned properties, such as where the EPNO office now resides. They didn’t have one.”

The commissioner described how they created a property manager position filled by professional property manager Tom Klutz. “He organized and identified unused properties that could be put to good use.”

EPNO chairs presented Leonard with a Thank You card. “This is so sweet,” Leonard responded.

Turns fenced field into neighborhood park
“What we’ve done here proves that you don’t have to lock up public spaces,” Leonard said, referring to the once-fenced grounds that became Portland’s first “HydroPark”. “Responsible community members taking care of this building – and responsible neighbors looking after the park – are every bit as good as tall fences and security guards. It is a great deal for everybody.”

Hazelwood Chair Arlene Kimura told the commissioner, “The neighbors across the street say they’re so pleased that this property has turned into a place for positive activities. They don’t have to worry about bums using the open space for illegal purposes.”

Glenn Taylor, Powellhurst-Gilbert’s Chair, added, “And folks don’t have to use a 4-wheel drive to get down the road, since the city improved NE 117th Avenue.”

Ross Monn, Wilkes, gives Commissioner Leonard a list of the dozens of organizations that have used the new EPNO offices for meetings and trainings.

More than a coalition office
“I feel ecstatic about this evening,” Leonard told us, as he enjoyed a delicious light meal catered by Wilkes chair Ross Monn. “I remember walking through this building when it was a boarded-up vacant storage facility. Now it is a center of community activity in East Portland.”

Asked what the evening’s celebration meant to him, Leonard replied, “I’m a nuts-and-bolts, on-the-ground kind of project person. This is the kind of thing I love to see done. It is such a common-sense thing to do. Honestly, this is one of the high points of my career.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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