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Paul Knauls stands in front of the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building during a February dedication ceremony.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 28 March 2024

The 31 studio and one-bedroom units are open to households earning up to 60% of the area median income, with preference given to veterans.

Fittingly, the new development is named after Air Force veteran and unofficial “mayor of Northeast Portland” Paul Knauls and his late wife, Geneva.

“I think it’s just a beautiful building,” Knauls, 93, said.

knauls affordable housing bldgPaul Knauls and his granddaughter stand outside the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building. (Photo courtesy of Paul Knauls)
“I actually took my granddaughter, she was here from Washington D.C., and I took her by to see it and she was just ecstatic – her grandma’s name and her grandfather’s name on the building!”

The Knauls were not unfamiliar with namesake buildings, having operated Geneva’s Shear Perfection salon, where Geneva worked for 36 years. The neighborhood institution stayed open even after her death in 2014, and was closed during the pandemic. There was also Geneva’s Restaurant and Lounge on North Williams Avenue and the popular night spot The Cotton Club on North Vancouver Avenue.

But this time, Knauls was approached by leaders at Self Enhancement Inc., which launched Alberta Alive to strengthen Portland's historically Black communities displaced by gentrification and transit projects. The organization’s mission statement, in part, is to restore to Black residents a sense of belonging. Their three new buildings – the Knauls at 780 NE Alberta St., the Dr. Darrell Millner Building (5050 N Interstate Ave.) and the Ronnie Herndon Building (510 NE Alberta St.) are all income-restricted and named for living legends in the Black community.

Knauls requested that his late wife’s name be included on the building.

Asked what Geneva would have thought of the tribute, Knauls said, ““She would’ve cared less! Geneva was just so cool. She probably would’ve said, ‘I don’t want my name up there,’ or she’d probably just tell me, ‘Whatever you want to do, Paul.’”

knauls affordable housing paulPaul Knauls in front of the image and story that will greet residents of the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building. He added, “ It was a great marriage – 49 years.”

Now, a photo of Geneva and her husband greet all who enter the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building. They also appear in a mural that will soon be hung on the outside of the building. And despite Geneva’s modesty, Knauls suspects she drew the larger crowd at a recent dedication ceremony.

“They only invited 35 people, but about 160 people showed up because they knew that they had to be there to see Geneva’s name on the building,” he said.

They will be in good company on the mural alongside head of the National Association for Black Veterans Gwendolyn Worthy, the Rev. W.G. Hardy of Highland Church, former state Sen. Avel Gordly, former Superintendent of Portland Public Schools Matthew Prophet and former Portland City Commissioner Charles Jordan. 

A Veteran Supporting Veterans

While the other two Alberta Alive buildings offer units with up to three bedrooms, the smaller units in the Knauls building underscore its focus on serving military veterans.

“SEI is going to help the vets living there if they have any problems getting back on their feet – getting their lives back on track,” Knauls said, describing the on-site case management that is available alongside other amenities like energy efficient appliances, secure entry, a community room, laundry facilities and indoor bike storage.

Knauls himself has devoted his time and energy to the National Association of Black Veterans.

The organization grew out of a particularly ugly history.

In Knauls’ lifetime, he said, “when the veterans came out of the Army – especially the Black veterans – they would lose their records – it was just discrimination, to make sure they didn’t get the benefits, so some people were out of the service and had served for 10, 20, up to 30 years – they still didn’t get their benefits.

“What we do is for the vets that don’t get their benefits because of some type of paperwork (error), we help them,” he said.

“We work and we get those benefits for them. In the last 20 years we’ve got about $20 million worth of benefits for veterans in Washington and Oregon, and to have my name up there associated with the NAB Vets – it’s just great.”

Knauls was particularly honored to have a number of NAB Vets at the dedication ceremony.

“It’s just an extraordinary facility, especially for veterans,” Knauls said. “The biggest problem I have is everyone’s calling me, everybody wants to live in my building! I have people from out of state calling, ‘I’m relocating back to Portland, I’d sure like to live there.’ I have to tell them it’s for veterans.”

The Paul & Geneva Knauls Building will be operated by Do Good Multnomah. Residents at the property will be referred through the Veteran Affairs’ VASH program and the Joint Office of Homeless Services Adult Coordinated Access.

For more information on the Paul & Geneva Knauls Building and other Alberta Alive properties, visit www.albertaalive.com

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