By Michael French | CNA Media Team
When her furnace went out this winter, 83-yearold Lorene Wilder lived without heat for days before she took a leap of faith. With just $400 in the bank, she wrote a $722 check for repairs and hoped for the best.
Help came just in time when a friend connected the 50-year Woodlawn resident to Taking Ownership PDX. The soon-to-be nonprofit provides free critical repairs to Portland-area Black homeowners and business owners. The organization covered her furnace repair, ordered heating oil and cleaned up her overgrown yard, all at no cost to Lorene.
“It’s providing reparations to Black homeowners and business owners in the form of repairs,” said Randal Wyatt, founder of Taking Ownership PDX.
“Right now we are prioritizing weatherization and life-safety issues. We’re doing a lot of roofs and window replacements and making sure homes are safe, dry and warm.” I
n an effort to hold off gentrification that’s driving Black residents out of neighborhoods, Taking Ownership PDX serves people like Lorene, who are often retired or disabled, living on fixed or low incomes and unable to keep up with repairs.
Randal finds these residents are often reported to authorities by neighbors who see the unkept-looking homes as unsightly, resulting in liens that force owners out of their homes when they’re unable to afford costly repairs.
Tyrone Tyler, 56, lives on Social Security income with his sister in the Woodlawn home their parents purchased in 1990. They endured discomfort – and combatted the moisture that caused it with tarps on the roof – for 10 years before getting a new roof from Taking Ownership PDX.
“It feels dry, safe and warmer,” Tyrone said. “It was a gift from God.”
Randal founded the organization last June. He is a musician who had worked as an advocate and mentor for Black, Latino, and low-income youth and young adults. He and a partner are the sole staff members, and they engage licensed contractors to perform the work.
Early publicity helped the organization. Community members donated $250,000 in seven months, enough to help 17 homeowners and one business. On the waitlist are 95 more. This year Randal aims to raise $500,000 to help 40 or more Black property owners with critical repairs.
Requests for support may be made at TakingOwnershipPDX.org.
Financial contributions and material donations are welcome. Due to licensing and liability concerns, volunteer labor may be provided only by licensed, bonded and insured contractors.
While seeking nonprofit status, All Ages Music/Friends of Noise serves as fiscal sponsor. Tax-exempt donations may be made at TakingOwnerShipPDX.org.
Michael French is grateful to live on 28th Avenue in Concordia, a place where neighbors talk to each other and he can get most places on foot, by bike or transit. Contact him at MFrench96@ gmail.com.