How a strip club becomes a climate justice solution
December 16, 2014

Working together, local groups in Portland's Cully neighborhood are redefining sustainability and development as an anti-poverty strategy.


In places like Portland, low-income people and people of color spend their daily lives in places that suffer disproportionate impacts from pollution and a changing climate, in environmentally-damaged places like NE Portland’s Cully Neighborhood. They are marginalized, excluded from the opportunities for environmental wealth that other people enjoy in towns and cities in Oregon and the Northwest that are defined by their natural benefits.

Many are working to change this injustice. Starting in 2010, Verde, Hacienda Community Development CorporationHabitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East and NAYA established Living Cully: A Cully Ecodistrict. In Living Cully, our groups reinterpret sustainability as an anti-poverty strategy, introducing new environmental assets to the Cully neighborhood in response to existing community needs: health, jobs, education and housing.

Living Cully has delivered environmental projects which directly benefit Cully’s low-income people and people of color. Now, Verde, Hacienda CDC, Habitat and NAYA are implementing environmental projects of a new and greater scale, Living Cully Signature Projects:

  • Verde’s Let Us Build Cully Park! project, creating jobs, educational opportunities and open space by converting a 25 acre brownfield into a new park for the Cully neighborhood.
  • Hacienda CDC’s Rebuilding Clara Vista project, incorporating green building into the rehabilitation of 133 units of affordable housing.
  • NAYA’s Whitaker Restoration project, creating habitat and additional facilities for NAYA’s community development activities, consistent with the site’s Native American history.

This work is catching on and Cully is becoming a destination for new Portland residents. The changes make Cully more attractive and livable, but they also make it harder for low-income people and people of color to stay in the neighborhood, a situation that has played out many times in Portland. We’re working very hard to make sure that Cully residents can stay and rise with the neighborhood.

Next Step: Let Us buy the Sugar Shack!

For more than a dozen years, the Sugar Shack Strip Club has operated in NE Portland’s Cully Neighborhood - across the street from 2 community centers, a pediatric health clinic, school bus stops, and hundreds of units of affordable family housing. Neighbors have long hoped that this block-sized complex would go away, and that something else could take its place, something that serves the children and families in Cully. Local nonprofits tried to buy it many times, but the building was never for sale.

This summer, a For Sale sign appeared on the building, and Cully finally has a chance to reclaim a piece of property at its very center.

In response, Living Cully – a collaboration among 4 Cully-focused nonprofit groups: Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, the Native American Youth & Family Center, and Verde – made an offer on the property. The seller has accepted Living Cully’s offer, and we have 90 days (Jan 25, 2015) to line up financing for the $2.75 million purchase.

Help Us Buy the Sugar Shack! >> donate today.

If we can buy the Sugar Shack Strip Club, then we can make sure redevelopment of the property serves the Cully’s needs by creating jobs, supporting local businesses, educating youth, and engaging community.

Photo by Sam Tenney/DJC

Photo by Sam Tenney/DJC

Aidan Bolanos, 3, left, and Liomar Gonzalez, 6, play on a lot near the intersection of Northeast Cully Boulevard and Killingsworth Street. (Photo by Sam Tenney/DJC)

Help Cully Neighborhood children, families and community groups drive our own future!  We’re working to buy the Sugar Shack Strip Club and redevelop it into a neighborhood destination that serves Cully’s rich and diverse community, and we invite you to help us invest in Cully’s future so we can all rise together with the neighborhood. 

It also means that our community can drive what development means for us. We have exciting plans and a foundation in place to accomplish great things, but we need you to join us to make sure we can all get there together.

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Partners in LetUsBuytheSugarShack! and Living Cully



Our Mission: Verde serves communities by building environmental wealth through Social Enterprise, Outreach and Advocacy. Verde is by and of low-income communities.  We were born in NE Portland's Cully neighborhood, a neighborhood with more than its share of poverty, and less than its share of environmental assets.  Verde was started by Hacienda CDC, an affordable housing provider based in Cully.


Hacienda CDC

Hacienda CDC is a Latino Community Development Corporation that strengthens families by providing affordable housing, homeownership support, economic advancement and educational opportunities. Hacienda has a community of approximately 2,000 residents, roughly 60% of which are Latino. Residents typically earn between 30 to 60 percent of Area Median Income: $21,000 to $42,000 for a family of four in 2009. More than half of our residents are children.



NAYA Family Center draws on the strengths of its staff and volunteers to provide inclusive programming for Native American youth and their families. Guided by our elders and trusted by the community, NAYA creates a place for our people to gather together and live the values of our own unique cultures. When the Native community thrives so does the entire Portland region. NAYA offers a wide array of comprehensive services and community-based solutions, including lifelong educational opportunities, cultural identity, leadership development, elders support, homes for families, early childhood programs, and paths to financial security based on traditional tribal values. We are committed to eliminating poverty, hunger, family violence, and homelessness.

Habitat for Humanity - Portland / Metro East

Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East revitalizes neighborhoods, builds affordable and sustainable homes, and empowers families through successful homeownership. Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East is an independent affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a global home building movement. Habitat welcomes people from all walks of life to partner in serving families in need and creating a better community for everyone who lives here.

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Author Bio

Tony DeFalco

Living Cully Coordinator, Climate Solutions

Tony is the Living Cully Coordinator at Verde and coordinates the Living Cully Ecodistrict. He has worked for 15 years in environmental and social justice.

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