Leaders, community celebrate groundbreaking for Portland's first affordable housing site for tribal members

November 20, 2018

Standing on land originally inhabited by members of the Native village “Neerchokikoo” in NE Portland’s Cully neighborhood Tuesday, local leaders and non-profit partners broke ground on a new affordable housing development with a focus on meeting the housing needs of the local Native community. 

Local leaders break ground at the site of the new Nesika Illahee development.

Nesika IIlahee, meaning “Our Place” in the Chinook language, will be a three-story wood-framed building featuring 59 units of studios, 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom apartments. Twenty units will be reserved for enrolled members of federally recognized tribes.

The project, spearheaded by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), and the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest (NARA), will be the first affordable housing site for tribal members in Portland.

The development is a direct response to one of the most significant disparities highlighted in Multnomah County’s latest Point in Time Count, which documents the number of residents experiencing homelessness.

Despite making up 2.5 percent of the population, Native Americans represented 10 percent of those counted as homeless in 2017. Native Americans were also four times more likely to experience homelessness compared to people who are white.

“By 2017, we saw a staggering increase in the number of Native community members living outside when we conducted a Point in Time count,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “Through the county and city’s Joint Office of Homeless Services, we’re working to address this disparity.”

Multnomah County partners with NAYA and NARA to support members of the the Native community, including behavioral health and addiction treatment. 

“I’m so hopeful that this model, along with our ongoing and expanding partnership with the Native community for behavioral health services, will have a tremendous impact in the community,” Kafoury said.

The latest Point in Time Count also revealed Native Americans in Multnomah County reported the highest rate of disabling conditions, at 72 percent, and the highest rate of experience with domestic violence, at nearly 47 percent. 

Through a collaboration between NAYA and NARA, all residents will have on-site access to culturally-specific medical, dental and behavioral health services. 

Joint Office of Homeless Services Director Marc Jolin delivers remarks at the Nesika Illahee groundbreaking.

Marc Jolin, who directs the Joint Office of Homeless Services, praised the model for improving access to affordable housing and reducing health disparities in the local Native community. 

“Through the tribal preference and the provision of culturally specific wraparound services, this project is truly a model for what it will take to overcome racial disparities,” Jolin said. “It will help us realize the vision that no one in our community is homeless - that everyone has a safe, stable place to call home. I am excited for the day that the first families receive their keys to their new homes on this site.”