A recent federal court ruling is allowing a lawsuit to proceed for hundreds of Black families in Portland, Oregon who were displaced from their neighborhoods decades ago. The survivors and descendants of the Central Albina neighborhood allege tha their families were unjustly pushed out of the area by city officials and developers to make way for a hospital that was never built.

On Dec. 1, federal Judge Michael Simon ruled that a lawsuit filed by 26 descendants of Black Portland families could proceed despite efforts by the city and the Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center to have the suit dismissed. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of families who were pushed out of Portland’s predominantly-Black Central Albina neighborhood in the 1970s to make room for a proposed expansion of Emanuel Hospital, as it was known at the time. According to the lawsuit, the city colluded with the hospital to condemn black homes and businesses in the neighborhood, taking them from residents without compensation and destroying them to make room for the hospital expansion, which ultimately never happened. At the time, four-fifths of Portland’s Black residents lived in the Albina section of the city, and three-quarters of the families displaced in the building project were Black.

In 2017, decades after displacing residents for the now-abandoned hospital expansion, Portland and Legacy Emanuel formed the William and Russell Project, an urban renewal project focused on redeveloping an area North William Avenue and Northeast Russell Street, part of the neighborhood that was destroyed. The endeavor’s Project Working Group initially included representatives from the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2, also known as EDPA2, the group that represents the descendants currently suing. EDPA2 has argued that any efforts at renewal should not happen until the city and the hospital have provided fair compensation to the 171 families who were displaced at the time. They cite the results of a recent report that estimates the amount owed to the families as $89 million.

In public statements, the William and Russell Project has not acknowledged the call for reparations. In court, the city and the hospital argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out because the descendants suing were not directly harmed b their family’s displacement and because the statute of limitations had already run out. In the end, Judge Simon disagreed. His ruling stated that “the destruction of Central Albina and the failure to expand the hospital as promised, leaving vacant and abandoned land, has certainly injured the public generally.”

With this ruling, the lawsuit to seek compensation for the destruction of the Central Albina neighborhood will continue. Though the outcome of the case has yet to be determined, the latest ruling is a step towards achieving justice for a Black neighborhood wiped out in the name of progress that never came.