Activists dismantled the final barricades in a North Portland neighborhood Monday and reopened streets to traffic, a day after a Black and Indigenous family fighting to regain their home lost to foreclosure struck a tentative deal with city officials.
But it remained unclear when the final remnants of the tense six-day occupation in support of the so-called “Red House on Mississippi” and its longtime owners, the Kinney family, would recede from the home’s property or the large vacant lot next door.
Family members said in a statement Monday that they have not reached a deal to buy back the home or heard directly from the developer who has owned it since October 2018.
Nevertheless, backers of the Kinney family and the neighborhood occupation characterized the city’s apologies and the developer’s statements to news outlets that he’ll sell the house back as a win.
“We couldn’t be more energized to see what it looks like for a community to truly come together to support an Afro-Indigenous family,” the family’s statement said, adding they were celebrating the “big strides” made.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler conceded Monday that protesters’ aura of success could lead to similar occupations over other home foreclosures — but said he hopes it doesn’t.
He was unable to offer assurances that his administration could prevent another such standoff, which gripped the city for days as Wheeler considered sending in police to break the blockade.
“I hope it is not an ongoing phenomenon,” Wheeler said. “Our objective is to protect lives and end the occupation. And nobody should take this as an invitation to do it anywhere else. The end result could turn out very differently.”
Self-styled guards armed with paintball guns continued to block streets near the Humboldt neighborhood home Monday morning. But, as the sentries indicated would happen, they allowed vehicle travel on North Mississippi Avenue and adjoining streets to reopen by 6 p.m.
Layers of graffiti still blanketed nearby businesses and residential buildings, while some neighbors wondered when the area might return to normal. Wheeler offered no clear answers during a Monday morning video press conference held at City Hall.
“There is not a specific date or a specific time,” he said. “As long as progress is being made, and as long as the police bureau continues to advise me that de-escalation strategies are working, we will continue down that path.”
Wheeler’s remarks, his first before reporters since the occupation began, came as the Kinney family appeared to have raised enough money to buy the house back from its legal owner without any financial assistance from the city.
The new owner bought it at foreclosure auction in 2018 for $260,000 and has indicated a willingness to return it at that price plus legal and administrative costs.
A “Save the Kinney Family Home” GoFundMe campaign organized on the family’s behalf had raised $309,000 as of Monday evening.
The family said in its statement that the developer, Roman Ozeruga, had not yet reached out to them directly or via a lawyer.
That seemed to contradict Wheeler’s assertion during his press conference that the family and developer “apparently” had reached a tentative agreement on a sale. The mayor thanked both sides repeatedly for coming together as private parties to reach a deal he said the city helped facilitate.
Wheeler later clarified that the family and developer are not in direct contact but are negotiating via intermediaries, including members of his staff.
“I am very confident they will reach an amicable solution on this,” he said.
The family also expressed confidence in their statement that Ozeruga will follow through on his comments to multiple news outlets that he is willing to sell the Kinneys their former home.
“The fact that he’s come forward to media outlets does promise one thing for sure — he’s feeling the heat,” the family’s statement said.
Some people have complained on social media that they think the family’s crowdfunding campaign misrepresented details of the family’s foreclosure and financial circumstances, and at least one person reported those concerns to GoFund Me.
Company spokesperson Jenny Perillo said that, “In this case, one of our trust & safety specialists investigates the fundraiser; this is the standard process.
“We take all complaints seriously and have reached out to the organizer for more information and will ensure the funds safely reach the Kinney family,” Perillo said.
A months-long protest at the house escalated last week as Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies moved to enforce a court-ordered eviction.
Police, faced with a large crowd and volatile crowd, fell back after making several arrests, and those gathered built barricades that blocked off several blocks.
Police said they found weapons at the site, and at least one sentry armed with a gun was seen there in the days since.
Julie Metcalf Kinney, who is Native American, and her husband William Kinney Jr., who is Black, owned the home for more than 23 years before losing it to foreclosure for failing to pay the mortgage for nearly a year and half.
Metcalf Kinney and the couple’s oldest son, William Kinney III, have asserted their sovereign citizen beliefs that the law does not apply to them and courts have no jurisdiction over them or their debts.
The Kinney family and their supporters say they’re fighting a history of gentrification, discrimination and predatory subprime lending that has gutted Portland’s historically Black neighborhoods and replaced them with apartments and condos.
Many of the family’s supporters, who include activists at the center of Portland’s racial justice movement, declared the occupation a victory after the mayor announced the tentative agreement Sunday.
During his press conference, Wheeler bristled at such characterizations.
“It is really, frankly, disgusting when I hear people describe this as quote ‘a win’ unquote,” he said.
“We’re talking about people’s lives. And we are talking about safety. And if you think that negotiating at the head of a gun is a win, you need to reevaluate.”
Wheeler continued: “People should not take this as quote ‘a win’ or an opportunity to do it somewhere else. This is not how we resolve conflict in Portland, Oregon — at the head of the gun.
“That’s not how you do it. You do it the way the Kinney family and the developer are trying to do it, trying to negotiate an amicable, peaceful solution that they can both agree to.”
— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632
Oregonian/OregonLive journalists Beth Nakamura, Brooke Herbert, Ted Sickinger and Noelle Crombie contributed to this report.
Email at email@example.com
Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh
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