“To that end we are willing to have conversation with any person or organization,” he added.
The real estate tour involved a walkthrough of the building when Head Start classes were still in session, which upset staff and families, Herndon said.
What’s more, the lease to Albina Head Start is set to expire at the end of June and the Methodist conference has not offered to extend it, despite requests, Herndon said.
Albina Head Start has been using the church complex for three of its classroom since the late 1970s, having worked out a less expensive rental agreement in exchange for paying for utilities and occasional building upgrades with the former local congregation.
The former Woodlawn United Methodist Church was the home to a diverse congregation that disbanded in 2016. When the congregation dissolved, leaders at the Methodist conference met with Herndon where he requested that if they were to sell the building in the future, could they please talk to Albina Head Start before they put it up for sale on the open market so he may negotiate a possible purchase agreement.
He said they never did reach out to him before deciding to sell the building using a broker.
“Normally brokers take a bid from the highest bidder. That’s normally how that works. That’s what the business is doing. So here we go again and this is exactly what gentrification looks like,” Herndon said.
The church conference briefly considered forming a new Methodist ministry at the same location. But their Board of Trustees ultimately voted to sell the property in December, church leaders said.
A group has formed to ask the Methodist conference to hold off on the open market until further negotiations with the local non-profits and service providers are completed. The Coffee Talk Planning Committee consists of long-time activists who share an appreciation for gathering places important to the life of Portland’s African American community. They share some of the concerns raised by the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association; Deliverance Center of Generation X Church; Albina Head Start; and Trudy Pollard, a lifelong resident of Woodlawn neighborhood who was born in the community and was a member of the Woodlawn United Methodist Church before it disbanded.
“I am disappointed, needless to say, about the status. I am assuming the property is on the open market since the realtor is conducting tours,” said Pollard, 71. Her family was one of the first to attend the original congregation. Pollard’s father, Shelton Bailey, also had a room dedicated in his honor in the church building.
Pollard had been lobbying many United Methodist officials to reconsider putting the building on the open market, arguing doing so would “reopen some of the wounds that have healed and will justify in some minds that it is still okay to maintain and promote Portland’s shameful racist gentrification of its Black Community.”
“My fear is that a developer will come in and quickly make an attractive offer and level the building and replace it with a multiplex of sorts and mask it as affordable housing,” Pollard wrote in an April 10 letter to Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of Greater Northwest Area of the United Methodist Church. She also wrote a similar letter to the United Methodist Idaho-Oregon Conference Board of Trustees Chair Larry McClure on April 8.