Construction begins on largest affordable housing complex in Cully neighborhood to date

March 16, 2021

It was a sunny March morning in Northeast Portland. And in a barren lot where one of the city’s largest strip clubs once presided — an infamous hub for illegal activity —  neighbors and community leaders had gathered to bury those memories and dig up hope for what’s coming next. 

Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal joined Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, City Commissioner Dan Ryan and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, among others, to celebrate the start of construction on Las Adelitas, an ambitious, community-shaped $58 million project that will transform the one-time site of the Sugar Shack into 142 new units of affordable housing. 

The undertaking, which began in 2013, will be the largest redevelopment project and public investment in the Cully neighborhood to date. It will include apartments ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms. One-third of those homes will be set aside for people who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, roughly $27,630 for a family of four.

Of those deeply affordable apartments, 18 will serve people experiencing chronic homelessness by providing permanent supportive housing — showcasing one of the solutions voters approved last year when they supported Metro’s Supportive Housing Services Measure. Each of those apartments will be paired with intensive wraparound support services, funded by the Joint Office of Homeless Services, from Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. 

The complex will also include an event hall, a central plaza, a playground and classroom space for the Portland Niños program run by Hacienda Community Development Corporation. Hacienda was a lead champion for the development.

“Creating affordable housing is complicated and difficult,” Commissioner Jayapal said at the groundbreaking event March 12. “But Hacienda understands the needs of this community, and the great need for housing and services and public spaces that are welcoming to Cully residents; and it took on this project and persisted even when the path forward was uncharted.” 

From a Chichimeca Aztec dance by Huecha Omeyocan to a musical performance from Son Huitzilín, the socially distanced event was not just a celebration of the project, but as Commissioner Jayapal remarked, “a celebration of the Cully neighborhood, and the Cully community — the people who live here, and those who will be able to live here, because of this project.” 

Its name, Las Adelitas, finds roots in the group of female soldiers who fought in the Mexican Revolution and are now a symbol of inspiration and action. Hacienda’s director, Ernesto Fonseca, said the new development will engender similar feelings in the Cully community.

“(Sugar Shack) was a place that was being utilized for the commercialization and use of women’s bodies,” he says. “So with the (new) concept of a place of empowerment, a place of hope, that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Fonseca said affordable housing is vital at a time when rampant gentrification has been forcing communities of color out of Northeast Portland. This is especially true in the Cully neighborhood, which contains the most diverse Census tract in the state. 

“Cully and Northeast Portland historically have been the home of African Americans and Latinos. This community needs stability. We need to continue retaining as many people as possible that were born and raised in this community so we can extend that institutional knowledge and history that was raised in this place,” he said.

“Gentrification is real and will continue to happen, but we need to provide as many opportunities so gentrification is not a total wipeout. That’s why it’s important to keep the integrity and history of places like this. We need to invest in these communities.”

Members of the Huecha Omeyocan Dancers performed.

In speaking to the dozens of people in attendance, Commissioner Jayapal also set Las Adelitas’ arrival against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jayapal, whose district includes Cully, shared a message of hope, highlighting the stability and relief that Multnomah County agencies like Bienestar de la Familia and La Clinica — social service and primary care providers — have provided throughout the pandemic. Both are across the street from Las Adelitas.

“This week marks the one-year anniversary of the first reported COVID case in Oregon… For Cully, it has meant small businesses closing or on the brink of closing, children home from school, families who were already on the edge losing jobs, (and) young people lost to the scourge of gun violence. But Cully is resilient. The people of Cully are and will be resilient,” Commissioner Jayapal said.

“With Las Adelitas, Cully will have one more incredible community asset that will allow it to continue to thrive.”

‘Las Adelitas’ is scheduled to be completed in October 2022.