LaTasha Taylor stood on the cement pathway to her new North Portland home on Friday, in the swell of an afternoon housewarming party, when the group paused for a song.
From the lawn, a singer broke out: “When I look back, over all that I’ve gone through, I can see I made it — and it was all because of you.”
It was a party that celebrated Taylor, a single mother whose long-held desire to own a home became reality in May, alongside Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the ending of slavery.
The 36-year-old is raising five children alone. She held down two jobs and overcame COVID-19 when she put her name on the mortgage paperwork. She said the party — a surprise gathering thrown by Portland Housing Center, a nonprofit helping first-time homebuyers — was overwhelming.
“I knew we were going to take pictures with the family, but I didn’t know all of this was going to happen,” she said. “It gives me a feeling of being free and being able to evolve. Just being able to live freely. It makes me feel good.”
Taylor’s new home is in North Portland, a mile-and-a-half from the home her grandmother once owned. During her stays there as a kid, she said, owning a home became a goal.
“My grandma’s place was always the meeting place,” she said, describing it as an open door for all the family’s kids and grandkids. “Family dinners. Birthday parties. Everything about family transpired in that home.”
Her grandmother died in 2009 and, eventually, the family epicenter was foreclosed. In the years to follow, Portland’s northern quadrants became increasingly gentrified and priced out those who historically resided there — often, Black families.
Taylor, meanwhile, became a single mother. She made do with stints in fast food, in retail, at a call center, at a credit union and, eventually, landing support jobs in the health care industry. Along the way she lived in low-income housing.
But, she said, her goal of owning a home remained constant. The restrictions of Section 8 — what color she could paint rooms, for example — grew tiresome. From 2011 on, she paid rent on her own.
Taylor said few family members had ever been able to buy a home. Those who did bought their homes a generation ago. Taylor said she was determined not to be beaten by a system that has historically made it difficult for Black Americans to buy homes.
“I was a young mother and I knew I had a desire — that being on Section 8 and being a renter wasn’t all that’s in store for me. I knew one day I wanted my own family home,” she said.
In 2018, a letter arrived, advertising a city-funded program designed to help people displaced by gentrification buy homes in North and Northeast Portland. Homebuying classes led by Portland Housing Center helped set Taylor on a path to improving her credit and paying down debt.
To save up, she picked up a second job as a cashier at Safeway. She worked six days a week, sometimes clocking 60 hours in a work week.
Eventually, she said she landed a grant from Portland Housing Center for $90,000 on her down payment. She landed a second grant for $20,000, as well. She found a home she liked in North Portland.
There would be one last twist, however. In March, as inspectors toured the house, she woke up with her chest burning. She stood up and ached from her toes to the top of her head.
Her family said she probably got herself sick working too hard. When she went to the doctor, she learned she was one of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“I just instantly started bawling, like, ‘I don’t want to die,’” she said. “All you hear about is death with coronavirus. This is not what I was expecting.”
Taylor was never hospitalized, but she did make two trips to the emergency room — two new debts she’ll have to pay down. She recovered and moved her family into the home — a 1,400-square-foot ranch with four bedrooms — in May.
Peg Malloy, executive director of Portland Housing Center, said Juneteenth was apt timing for a housewarming. Juneteenth is a celebration of independence, while a home is an empowering asset to own that many people of color haven’t had equitable access to.
“To me, if you’re going to free people, you also need to supply them the same means of opportunity,” she said. “To me, this is making right what should have happened a long time ago, and that’s the same thing with Juneteenth.”
Less than half an hour after it started, the socially distanced housewarming was over. Taylor went back to working from home at her full-time job with Oregon Health and Science University. She said she planned to keep her job at Safeway to help with her recent doctor bills.
On Saturday, she’s throwing a birthday party for her youngest daughter, Saniyah. She plans to have family over and start recreating that experience she had when she was a kid.