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The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

Promote the common good

Main: 503-823-4519

City/County Info: 503-823-4000

TDD: 503-823-6868

1120 SW 5th Ave, Suite 114, Portland, OR 97204

History of Neighborhood Needs Assessment

Program structure highlights
Highlights mostly from Executive Summary of Neighborhood Needs Program report, 1977-89
  1. Scope of recommendations ranged from stop signs to street lights, from major capital improvement projects to new programs. 
  2. Each need was forwarded to the appropriate City bureau, which assigned a contact person to work directly with the identified neighborhood representatives during the year.
  3. Final decisions by bureaus were made by mid-April to be part of the next fiscal year budget.
  4. An annual Neighborhood Needs Program report was produced.
  5. The City recorded responses as: Accepted, Rejected, Indefinite, or No Response.
  6. Office of Neighborhood Associations staff coordinated and compiled data. 
City Performance Highlights
  1. Between 1997 and 1989 the “No Response” rate from bureaus went from 32% to 8%.
  2. By 1989 the positive response rate was at 44% up from average of 35%.
  3. Volume of requests ranged from 379 in 1977 to 330 in 1989.   Avg. 354 per year.  The explanation was that groups became more sophisticated in packaging their requests.
Bureau Performance Highlights
  1. Volume of requests in 1989:  PDOT  46%, Parks 21%, Buildings 10%.
  2. Most bureaus had near 100% response rates.
  3. Accepted request rates:  ONA, 71%, Police 63%, Buildings 25%
District Coalition highlights
  1. Districts had 43% of requests met compared with 37% program average (not sure what this means.)
  2. In 1989, it was clear an effort by ONA to emphasize quality over quantity was resulting in fewer requests.
  3. Request volume closely matched acceptance rates of projects.
  4. Participation by District matched the population % in each district.
January 16, 1992 memo on redesigning program (near the end)
  1. Use existing program but limit to identify and prioritize needs only for Capital Improvement Projects in Target Areas only, need projects that can be funded with federal Block Grant dollars, or needs that fall into a particular category such as housing or social services.
  2. Replace the needs assessment with an outreach and education program that helps citizens work directly with different bureaus to identify and solve problems.
  3. Replace the Needs Request process with a Needs Assessment Process.  NA’s use an assessment tool to identify needs and problems, after issues are identified and prioritized citizens develop a workplan to assign responsibility for addressing the need identified.  Citizens groups would have more responsibility to organize action steps to advocate for the need.
Anecdotal feedback from interviews
Historical viewpoints from:
  • Sylvia Bogert, Director, SW Neighborhoods, Inc., staff in 1980’s
  • Allison Stoll, Director, Central NE Neighbors, crime prevention staff in 1980’s
  • Rachel Jacky, former ONI Director, 1987 to 1993
  • Lee Perlman, former ONI staff person, 1980-85, and consummate neighborhood historian
  1. All were unanimous that it was seen as a great idea in concept.
  2. Opportunity to connect citizens to city services through neighborhood groups.  Active engagement of residents in an organized structure.
  3. Opportunity to educate citizens on how city services were provided.
  4. Built community understanding and buy-in into City services and infrastructure projects.
  5. Bureaus were accountable to neighborhood groups and citizens.  Even if the answer was no to funding a project the citizens got an answer and explanation of why not.
  6. Even if projects were not funded it created data and a paper trail that citizens could continue to advocate for a project and hold a bureaus feet to the fire.  (This was not necessarily a pro in the eyes of some bureau leadership.)
  7. The city tracked how many years in a row a project idea was advocated for which was another means for NA’s and the City to identify which projects had strong community support.
  8. Who better to identify needs than residents and business owners living in a neighborhood.
  1. Never enough money to fund projects.  Far less than majority of projects were funded.
  2. Created unrealistic expectations among citizens that projects would be fulfilled, when in reality most were not.  Shortcomings overwhelmed success stories.
  3. Bureaucratic process was too long.  Even those projects that got funded it might take five years before a project came to fruition.   Story of a NA that wanted a curb cut for a disabled middle-school student.  By the time the curb cuts were installed the student was graduating from high school.
  4. Many requests were often very small scale that could have been processed more efficiently if there were better communication between citizens/NA’s and City services.
  5. NO standardized citywide procedures.  No one was sure what the ground rules were.  Ways of collecting data varied widely between coalition areas.
  6. District Coalitions were known to have widely varying practices for organizing the surveying and prioritizing exercises with NA’s.  Meaning some Coalitions were very well organized and some did not execute the outreach very well.   Examples:
  7. Some coalitions tried hard to outreach to diverse range of groups and residents, some didn’t try hard.
  8. Some coalitions were very methodical about simply tallying the reported priorities of groups. 
  9. Some coalitions were known to summarize their neighborhood group priorities to reflect the priorities of the coalition leadership.
  10. Some neighborhood groups sent their priorities in directly to ONI bypassing the Coalitions.
Other observations
  1. Neighborhood Needs Assessment was a key reason for the creation of the Information and Referral program at ONI, the 823-4000.  Many citizens and neighborhood groups were simply using the assessment process to find out who they needed to work with in the city to get a stop sign put up, for example.  At that time the City had a poor reputation for helping citizens find how to get to the staff person or the answer they wanted/needed.
  2. If the program were to be resurrected there would need to be a commitment to a fixed dollar amount that citizens could count on to be dedicated to funding at least some % of projects.
  3. The concept of a Neighborhood Small Grants program would partially fulfill the goal of providing community groups with funds to implement neighborhood priorities.
  4. How the reports from a neighborhood or coalition were written and organized had a lot to do with whether the City bureaus took them seriously and were more likely to succeed.  Example:  Some NA’s were literally known to turn in their requests in crayon writing vs. one NA request with a traffic control proposal was so well organized and thought out that it ended up leading to City policy change on traffic control systems.
  5. ONA Director, Sarah Newhall, in 1985 was identified as not being a big fan of the project and made some significant administrative changes that year that diminished the effectiveness of the program.