Jeanette and John both grew up in Portland. But when they returned to Oregon after several years in Georgia, the couple discovered big changes. Like many African American Portlanders facing the impacts of gentrification, they discovered they could no longer afford to live in their hometown: historically Black neighborhoods had become home to mostly white, high-income residents and rents had skyrocketed.
Then Jeanette and John heard about Central City Concern’s Charlotte B. Rutherford building, located in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood. At the Rutherford building, under the Portland Housing Bureau’s N/NE Preference Policy, people with generational ties to North Portland can find a home. It’s a piece of CCC’s work to help address a legacy of marginalization and displacement and to help rebuild community for Black Portlanders.
When the Rutherford opened in 2018, the couple were among its first residents. “This was a blessing for us,” says Jeanette, from her apartment on the top floor of the North Portland building. She and John value living in a place where they hear children playing in the hallway and feel connected to their neighbors.
But when COVID-19 hit, they needed some help to stay there.
John is a minister, but his work as a Lyft driver pays the couple’s bills. That income vanished in March. John, who is 66, receives monthly Social Security checks that cover food and bills, but not much more. Suddenly, they were uncertain about how they would pay rent.
Then in June, John had a heart attack that left him unable to work even though restrictions on Lyft drivers had eased. He spent two days in the hospital and a month healing at home until his doctor cleared him to get back to work.
“From March to July, all we had was Social Security. Our family brought over food, but we didn’t want to be a burden on them,” says Jeanette. Eight of her 11 siblings still live in the Portland area, but they’re all older and living on fixed incomes. Jeanette worried about straining her family’s collective resources.
“We just didn’t know we’d be down that long. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
But at CCC, rent payments aren’t just about paying for physical space — they fund a wide variety of integrated services that wrap around and support residents. So when things got dicey, Jeanette and John weren’t facing it alone. Instead, there was a Resident Support Specialist at the Rutherford to notice their struggle and offer resources like rent assistance.
It was a godsend to learn that rent assistance was available, Jeanette says. She and John applied and quickly received the help they needed.
“It was such a blessing,” says Jeanette. Without the stress and worry of falling behind on rent, John was able to heal.
Now John’s back at the wheel, although he must keep the windows open to circulate air while driving. Jeanette put her efforts toward applying for a new job, and landed a position with the State of Oregon. “I’m thankful for this job,” she says. “I enjoy it. I’m part of helping get people what they need.”
Jeanette and John— and their neighbors at the Charlotte B. Rutherford— have found their feet, but they didn’t have to do it alone. Whether they’re entertaining the neighbor kids, walking through the rose garden at nearby Peninsula Park, or sharing online fellowship with John’s congregation, the couple is part of a community that is uniting to stay secure, strong and healthy —even in the face of unprecedented hardship.
Your gift to Central City Concern helps bring safety and stability to families, like Jeanette and John, who have faced unforeseen challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. With your support, we’re helping Portlanders navigate hardship and find hope during these times of unprecedented uncertainty. Please make a donation through Give!Guide today.