Rockwood is one of the most challenged and exciting neighborhoods anywhere in the United States.
Rockwood was historically a white, middle-class commuter suburb in unincorporated Multnomah County.
When you mention the neighborhood to others in the Portland Metro Area, you will be met with a variety of strong opinions. Yet few people know the true story of the community.
The Rockwood that exists today is the result of the gentrification that has taken place over the past 25 years.
Everything changed in 1987 when the Oregon Supreme Court forced Gresham to annex its land into the city, even though the citizens were strongly against it.
This coincided with the opening of a Max stop that linked Rockwood to Portland and gave mobility to newcomers.
At the same time, Portland was intentionally displacing African-Americans from its North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods while refugee and immigration agencies placed thousands of clients in the cheap apartments of the area.
Rejected by both Portland and Gresham, Rockwood is a community that has never been embraced. Years of neglect and underinvestment have led Rockwood to be Oregon's largest, under-resourced, and challenged community.
Rockwood is the result of a system designed to oppress those on the margins. This system has achieved its goals: the result is a long history of racist and oppressive policies and practices.
"When Rockwood was separated into two cities it was on the outer edge of both cities and didn't receive the attention that the rest of these cities received. When Rockwood was incorporated, neither city took a proactive approach to welcome the residents, plan for infrastructure and work on livability issues. It was like a forgotten appendage and did not receive equal capital funds for improvements etc. ... Neither 'old' Gresham residents nor 'old' Portland residents have been willing to accept Rockwood as being part of their city, and [the neighborhood] has always been negatively portrayed by both areas."
— Local business owner
Life in Rockwood
The income disparities are stark. Median household income in Rockwood is less than half of what it is in Portland. In just the past eight years, this gap has more than doubled. Home to over 40,000 people, Rockwood is part of East Multnomah County which is known for a considerable gap between the rich and poor.
In fact, if Multnomah County were divided into two states, the west side of the county would be one of the wealthiest states in the United States, and the east side would be one of the poorest.
The Rockwood community has the worst health outcomes, the youngest population, the worst educational attainment, and the lowest incomes of any other large community in Oregon.
It is also the most rent-burdened neighborhood in Multnomah County. The cumulative impact of these challenges has caused the people of the community to face many hardships — one of the most distressing is a life expectancy that is a full 10 to 15 years less than it is in Portland.
Despite its challenges, the people of Rockwood have proven to be tough, resilient, and hopeful. The community is home to an incredibly diverse population.
Our neighbors speak more than 88 languages at home and represent the youngest demographic in the metro area. The community is hungry for change and residents are leading the way.
We are focused on working alongside our neighbors to bring about lasting systems-level change to the local community.
Our core strategy is to coordinate and build the capacity of people, businesses, and groups to make Rockwood and East Multnomah County a place where everyone can earn, learn, and belong.
Our strategy is working. Since 2013 we have been listening, learning, and bridge-building. We have worked hard to lift up, sustain, and amplify local leaders as we build a coalition that provides pathways from poverty to prosperity.
Rockwood Identity Atlas: A Quantitative Study
The Rockwood Identity Atlas is a 100-page report detailing statistics on Rockwood's history, housing, demographics, families, jobs, community, and health.
Lunch and Learn
An opportunity to go deeper. Learn more about the challenges and opportunities in Oregon’s poorest community and how you can engage in our work.
We invite you to join one of our upcoming virtual Lunch and Learn opportunities.
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