Fifteen ways Eugene can move forward on housing, transit, and climate action in 2020

The City of Eugenes latest effort to Engage me — this time via a survey about its Climate Action Plan, years in the making but projected to achieve only 40% of its goals — asks, <As the City Council reviews these additional policy options to mitigate carbon, is there any specific feedback you would like to provide?> Here is what I wrote….

If I read correctly, the two biggest producers of emissions are Transportation and Residential/Commercial Energy Use. Thus, it seems the biggest impact could be gained by effecting two basic changes: incentivize small-scale living and significantly reduce car usage.

INCENTIVIZE SMALL-SCALE LIVING

  1. Encourage microhousing — such as The Collegian in Ward 3, where I live — and other innovations in small-scale housing throughout the community. Again and again, we at Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers hear of people with creative housing ideas taking their projects to Springfield or other cities instead, because Eugene is not regarded as friendly to housing innovation. (Eugene sustainable architect Dylan Lamar and his creative Backyard Barnraising project, which will enable three working-class families to build and purchase their own small affordable homes in Springfield, are just the latest example.) Eugene residents deserve these options too.
  2. Legalize and facilitate time-tested ways of co-living, in which groups of unrelated people live in small private spaces and share larger communal spaces. Examples that Eugene should be proud of include the beautiful Duma Community and Walnut Street Co-op, both in Ward 3, where nine people share a 10-bedroom house. Under present city land use code, these venerable co-living residences would be illegal if formed today.
  3. Encourage basic, less-expensive housing forms such as rooming houses and SROs throughout the community, but especially near the EmX and other major transit corridors, because people of modest means should not have to take on the additional expense of owning a car in order to live in Eugene. The residence formerly known as the Oval Door is a wonderful example
  4. Encourage providers of what is now unfortunately labeled student housing (quads) to rebrand it, more accurately, as Sustainable Housing — since all ages are welcome at nearly all of these residences, and this way of living is far more sustainable than the traditional apartment or the single-family homes that currently cover 80% of Eugene. Their rents are about half that of the median rent in Eugene.
  5. START SUPPORTING TINY HOUSES, and work with the many people wanting to create or live in tiny houses here. Wouldnt it be nice if the next article titled <City Council approves zoning change to allow for new form of innovative affordable housing>, which was passed excitedly from one pro-housing Facebook group to another in November, was about Eugene, not Minneapolis?
  6. Make ADUs easy and inexpensive to build or create, waive fees and property taxes for those 400sf or less, provide preapproved plans on the City website, host forums with City staff to advise residents who want to add an ADU to their property, and (incorporating the previous bullet) allow tiny houses as low-cost ADUs, as LA has just done. ADUs contribute to sustainability goals in many ways, detailed in an excellent post by Sightline Institute that is part of its long-running series on Legalizing Inexpensive Housing.
    This now 78-part, still-ongoing series certainly gives the lie to the myths — mystifying to me, but frequently cited by smart and well-meaning people in Eugene — that there is nothing we can do about the housing crisis and that the market cannot produce affordable housing.
  7. Via a homesharing program like those in Portland and other cities across America, encourage Eugene homeowners to rent out extra bedrooms and ADUs to fellow residents who need affordable housing — and de-incentivize Airbnb and other short-term rentals (STRs), especially the practice of entire-house rentals. Eugenes #1 priority needs to become housing our citizens, not tourists.

REDUCE CAR USAGE.

About 20% of Eugene’s carbon emissions come from burning gasoline and diesel fuel to power vehicles.

  1. Foster compact urban development throughout the community. It makes frequent transit possible, which is a necessity to significantly increase car-free living. Most people dont want to wait half an hour for a bus, and they shouldnt have to, especially on a major thoroughfare.
  2. Start encouraging and rewarding car-free lifestyles. How about having the mayor give out a Car-Free Citizen Award each year?
  3. Build absolutely no more downtown parking garages/lots/spaces. Whenever I am downtown, I check the LED signs on the parking garages; unfailingly, every single one shows 50-200+ spots available.
    3a. Convert some existing parking areas to other uses, such as housing/emergency shelter, as has already been done in some other cities.
  4. Incentivize all buildings, both residential (including ADUs) and commercial, to be built without parking, especially near the EmX and other major transit corridors. There are 500 million parking spaces in the United States and only 325 million people.
  5. Partner with the annual BRING Sustainable Home + Garden Tour to show Eugeneans who are still car-dependent how to use the EmX, LTD buses, Uber + Lyft, Amtrak (with its many daily trips to Portland), and the ultra-inexpensive Bolt Bus and/or its new competitors.
  6. Incentivize transit-oriented development, especially along the EmX line and other major transit corridors, with minimal or no parking. Yes, people (like me) can and do live full, rich lives in Eugene without owning a car.
  7. Put an end to the strange practice of building affordable housing in out-of-the-way areas with low Walk Scores that force residents to have cars.
  8. Stop assuming that everyone has or wants a car. And acknowledge that electric vehicles (EVs) are too expensive for most Eugeneans. The sustainable long-term solution is to walk more, encourage walkable neighborhoods, and provide frequent, easy-to-use public transit, not for everyone to buy an electric car.

Additional contributions from our informal advisors, on issues of their expertise:

  • 350 Eugene: In all home construction, including ADUs, encourage energy efficiency and electric-sourced heat (heat pumps) rather than new gas services. 
  • Ward 1 City Council candidate Tim Morris: Metropolitan roadway planning for alternative transportation — retailoring urban roads to include marked safe travel for bikes and repaired sidewalks for different kinds of pedestrians to use.
    This is primarily a problem in the denser parts of Eugene, where many households could use alternative transportation, but choose not to because of how unsafe it is. One way to begin reducing Eugene’s dependence on cars is to make sure our streets are safe for all travelers to use.

ETA: After writing this, I came across several eye-popping transit facts:

1. 55% of Eugene workers live outside the city. That certainly explains the surprisingly (to me) high level of car dependency in this supposedly progressive town. Unless you live on the EmX line in Springfield, it isnt easy to get into Eugene from outlying areas without driving…. Why this should be, that is a whole separate question. (But even among Eugeneans, only 4.67% use mass transit.)
For perspective, I reached out to advisors who have lived here far longer:

  • “It may be interesting to figure out how they define “out of the city”… a large swath of the River Road area isn’t technically part of the City… it is unannexed and part of the county.  If they are counting unannexed but in the UGB, that feels a little different than if it is all folks commuting from Junction City and Cottage Grove and rural Lane County, etc.”
  • “Eugene has the largest employers in Lane County (UO, PeaceHealth Medical Group, Lane County, Eugene 4J School District, City of Eugene).”
  • “People like living in small rural communities for a variety of reasons (housing cost/availability being one) but don’t find work there; Oakridge might just be affordable.”
  • “Oregon is a rural state – “we do rural things” (This from a native rural Oregonian) 😉 ”
  • “We do “irrational” things.”

2. Corvallis — in my day, we thought of this hour-north town of 67,000 as Eugenes backward, conservative, sports-obsessed rival — has more green buildings per capita than any other city in Oregon and is ranked first on the EPA’s national list of Green Power Communities. Corvallis! Mind blown.

Not only that, Corvallis has a fare-free transit system and ranks in the top five sizable Oregon cities for mass transit users. (Although, it must be said, the percentage is only 2.41%.)

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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