Multnomah County Health Department receives $1 million from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in funding to advance environmental justice in Rockwood neighborhood

November 2, 2023

Multnomah County, Ore. (Nov. 2, 2023) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the Multnomah County Public Health Division $999,587 to increase climate resilience while reducing air pollution and carbon emissions over the next three years. The County will focus on replacing inefficient and polluting heating and cooling systems, improving indoor air quality and increasing shade in Gresham’s Rockwood neighborhood. 

“This federal investment means Rockwood neighborhood residents, a neighborhood that has historically suffered from underinvestment, will breathe cleaner air and be more resilient to extreme weather,” said Brendon Haggerty, manager of the Multnomah County Healthy Homes & Communities program. “Increasing people’s knowledge about climate impacts and their capacity to adapt will help to level the playing field in the face of a warming planet. The County prioritizes the expertise of the community, who will be engaged on these issues through our community partners, increasing overall knowledge and adaptability, and developing job skills.

“Together, we’re creating a Multnomah County where everyone has access to clean air and climate resilience solutions.”

Rockwood is one of the most richly diverse neighborhoods in the County. More than a quarter of its residents were born outside the U.S., with the largest share of immigrants coming from Mexico, Ukraine, Vietnam and the Philippines. Around half of all Rockwood residents identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC). 

At the same time, 20% of adult residents have less than a high school education and the  median income is significantly below the state average. Residents are also at higher risk of extreme heat because of the lower-than-average number of trees and more pavement in the neighborhood, which creates urban heat islands.

The area is identified as a disadvantaged community on the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. When the Health Department assessed Multnomah County across 11 indicators of environmental justice, Rockwood stood out on most of them as a place in need of increased investment and action.

“The risks of the climate crisis have been a top concern of mine throughout my time in public office,” said Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson. “This grant shows that we can combine a reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas with improved air quality. The best part is achieving those goals by prioritizing climate resilience in an environmental justice priority area.”

“This grant is exciting and builds off a long-term County commitment to the Rockwood neighborhood,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who grew up in Rockwood and represents much of East County. “Investing in East County has been my priority, and this grant adds to our dedication to improve libraries, health clinics and other services for our neighbors.”

The grant was one of six projects in Oregon that EPA announced on Oct. 25 totalling $3,857,209. The grants are available through EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Cooperative Agreement and Environmental Justice Government-to-Government programs. This is the largest investment ever announced under these longstanding EPA programs.

“Across the Pacific Northwest our communities can see and feel the impacts of legacy pollution and climate change in their day-to-day lives,” said EPA Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller. “These funds are an opportunity for historically underserved areas to advance community driven solutions that improve public health and the environment.”

In 2018, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution affirming the County’s support for environmental justice, clarifying that environmental justice is intrinsically reliant on meaningful public participation by historically underserved communities. A key part of the grant will be engaging with the Rockwood community to create climate change resilience and improve environmental justice.

The Public Health Division, which co-led the development of this proposal with the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability, collaborated closely with more than 80 partner organizations representing local BIPOC communities, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Two Spirit (LGBTQIA2S+) communities, and other underserved groups.

“In this grant you can see the power of ongoing partnerships,” said Office of Sustainability Director John Wasiutynski. “We have established partnerships that we are leveraging with the City of Gresham and community-based organizations to move the needle on key indicators of neighborhood health like air pollution and tree canopy. This new funding deepens and accelerates years of work and bodes well for the future.”

The Public Health Division will work alongside the City of Gresham, The Blueprint Foundation, Latino Network, Slavic Community Center of NW and Friends of Trees, to accomplish the project’s goals through four strategies:

  1. Community health worker trainings on environmental justice and climate resilience.
  2. Tree planting.
  3. Residential energy efficiency and bulk fuel heating replacements with energy efficient heat pumps that heat and cool.
  4. Green jobs training for youth focused on air monitoring technology.