Quads: affordable living, open to all Eugeneans

13th & Olive is an orange-and-pink intrusion at the southern edge of downtown that most Eugeneans love to hate. Its three massive (for Eugene), garishly colored buildings loom over the street, with no setbacks or (on Willamette Street, its most prominent face) street trees to soften the blow. Nor does it have any street-level retail to invite passers-by in.

Its development and construction were fraught with conflict and threats of legal action, culminating in a $260,000 payout to its major critic in exchange for his dropping land-use and planning-related appeals. And just a few years after it was built, the complex was sold to Singapore investors (for a considerable profit).

None of that represents an ideal model for the creation of small affordable housing. As I learned more about Eugenes housing crisis this summer, though, I became increasingly interested in touring it and other quads, which are ubiquitous in this college town. Marketed exclusively to students (though most are, in fact, open to all), quads are one of the only sizable categories of housing in Eugene renting for less than $650/month. (Rooms in shared houses, converted garages, and backyard cottages are another.)

Meanwhile, over half of all Eugeneans are cost-burdened, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

In quads, residents have lockable bedrooms and sometimes private bathrooms or half-baths, and share a kitchen + living area with several other tenants. Often the units are furnished. Usually utilities are included. 

In a Capri Eugene quad building we toured, each tenant had a private entrance. In others, the four shared a common front door, and a roommate-matching service was offered to help ensure compatibility.

We wondered: Could quads be livable for a single adult, seeking a room of their own and not wanting to pay the median Eugene rent of $1,058/month for housing?

We visited two downtown housing providers, 13th & Olive and Titan Court, a few weeks ago. (Earlier we visited a quad at Capri Eugene, which we found spotless and quite functional, and one managed by Stewardship Rentals, which was nondescript but also very inexpensive — around $400/month.)

You can see a lot of what we saw on our Instagram account, @microdwellers. Our conclusion: For single adults who dont mind (or even appreciate) co-living with a few others, quads are a creative, modern, and eminently livable Eugene-style update of the SRO (single room occupancy) concept. They deliver housing at a price most Eugene renters can afford — without public subsidy or lengthy applications demanding tax returns and extensive financial and rental history.

13th & Olive alone is housing up to 1,300 people (in three large buildings) for rates beginning at $615/month + electricity, per person. At present, it is only 76% full and is offering move-in bonuses, as are many of the other quad/co-living buildings in town.

Titan Court, next to LCC Downtown, provides another 225 units of housing for rents starting at $588/month, including utilities + internet. The building is LEED Gold and ultra eco-conscious. Tenants must be enrolled in some form of higher education counts, but even an online course counts. It is always 100% full with a waiting list, but maintains a model unit that can be seen anytime during weekday business hours.

Both 13th & Olive and Titan Court are within a few blocks of the downtown transit center and racks of PeaceHealth bikes, meaning residents dont need to own a car. Our Titan Court tour guide estimated that fewer than half of their residents have one. 

Other quad/co-living housing providers include Capri Eugene (a mature friend of ours lives in a Capri quad and says she feels there should be much more of this type of housing, for all ages), Skybox & Courtside Apartments ($619/month and up; 406 bedrooms), 2125 Franklin ($579/month and up; 734 bedrooms), and Stadium Park Apartments (the least expensive of the big ones at $519/month and up; perhaps because it is 2 miles from campus, near Autzen Stadium; 696 bedrooms). None require that tenants be students.

13th & Olive, Skybox & Courtside, and Stadium Park allow a pet with a security deposit ranging from $200 to $400 and an extra $25-$50/month in <pet rent>. Exceptions: Except for certified emotional support animals (ESAs), no pets are allowed at Titan Court and 2125 Franklin; cats only at Capri Eugene.

Vacancies at smaller quad/co-living providers can be found easily by searching rents below $600/month or so, on sites such as Craigslist and Zumper. Cedarwood Quads (28 bedrooms, open to all ages) rent for a rock-bottom $425/month — perhaps because Cedarwood is owned by a local person, not a corporation or out-of-state investor, and doesnt have the fancy amenities of most others). We hope to visit more examples of this housing form later and blog about them as well.

A final note: All these buildings offer shared amenities that the SRO dwellers of yore could barely have imagined. 13th & Olive, which can probably offer the most because of its massive scale, has a pool, hot tub, sauna, gym, game room, yoga studio, firepits, computer lab w/free printing, and more.  

The puzzle to me is that the average Eugenean seems to have no idea of this. No local I have talked to has ever set foot inside 13th & Olive or any other quad, and most have no or a distorted idea of what they offer, or think they are very expensive. In the case of 13th & Olive, this is particularly puzzling because its presence is impossible to ignore, and the front desk is staffed by residents who give tours at the drop of a hat to walk-ins, anytime from 9am to 6pm weekdays, 11am to 5pm weekends.

At the time of construction, there was controversy over these projects being granted the MUPTE (Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption), a 10-year property tax break available to downtown apartments. That is sad because these projects both deliver housing that is genuinely affordable to the average Eugene renter — a category in which we have a deficit of at least 13,500 units. (The median income for renter households is $26,064.)

Contrast the <controversial> quads with Bennett Management s Ferry Street Manor project, granted a MUPTE this September with no opposition. Its 400sf studio apartments will rent for at least $1,100/month — nearly twice what the average Eugene renter can afford.

When faced with the controversy over the MUPTE, the City Council once again did exactly the wrong thing. Rather than explain to our citizens that Eugene needed 13th & Olive, Titan Court, and thousands more units of housing renting at this rate, it instead amended the MUPTE so it could no longer be used for what is mistakenly termed in this town <student housing>.

Thus we got no more of this sort of naturally occurring affordable housing, built in the hundreds of units by the private market. Affordable-housing production in Eugene is now limited to projects such as the very worthy but minuscule-in-the-face-of-the-need Emerald Village Eugene (five tiny houses being completed soon, for a total of 22 in the village) and upcoming projects by St. Vincent de Paul (River Road Affordable Housing) and Cornerstone Community Housing (The Lucy), about 50 units each.

The revision of the MUPTE was just one of countless misguided decisions by City leaders over the past 5-10 years that has led to our towns #1 status in unhoused people per capita.

Other anti-affordable-housing policies including imposing costly requirements and fees on ADUs, limiting the number of people who can share a home (no more than five unrelated people — a policy that has been flagged as a possible violation of Fair Housing law), and allowing short-term rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO to proliferate unregulated.

Many of us will be working to elect pro-housing City Councilors next year, so we can start turning around this dismal and tragic situation, which has real costs in human lives.

Published by Sherri Schultz

Writer & change-maker exploring micro-dwelling in Eugene, Oregon. Founder of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers: https://www.meetup.com/Micro-dwellers .

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