On seeing the Eugene City Council kick the can down the road once again on housing (STRs this time)

A few weeks back, in a post that provoked quite a few Comments, I wrote about how short-term rentals are yet another factor depleting housing stock in cities across America; the scope of the problem in Eugene; and what many other municipalities have done about it.

This week our City Council had the opportunity to make a wise public-policy decision in the interests of the entire community, one that would have protected and preserved our remaining housing stock for Eugene residents. (Why is it so hard to understand that this is a civic good, in a community in a self-proclaimed housing crisis?)

On Monday the Council heard public testimony — unfortunately, largely from STR owners, who, not surprisingly, had organized to vociferously oppose regulation. A pro-regulation statement was gamely presented by the Springfield/Eugene Tenants Association [SETA]. On Wednesday the Council met to consider a staff-drafted ordinance on the issue.

The result was … absolutely predictable based on past Council inaction on other urgent housing-related issues, but still deeply dispiriting. The citys official summary is here; one observers tactfully phrased summary of the week:

On Monday, 12/9/19, the Eugene City Council heard an abundance of testimony from owners of short-term rentals like Airbnbs. Many of these people seemed like good community members who take care to maintain their property and minimize disturbances to neighbors. No one testified from the other side of the issue or shared stories or complaints of neglect.
Two days later, on 12/11/19, the City Council voted 7-1 to postpone an ordinance that would have regulated the industry, and instead established an ad hoc advisory committee to study the issue and bring more information back for future Council deliberations. This committee is to be composed largely of owners of short-term rentals, with some representation also possibly going to neighbors who have expressed specific complaints.
The committee was not tasked with any sort of study of overall impact of short-term rentals on our local housing inventory or on whether they detract from our stock of conventional, long-term rentals.
During the testimony on 12/9/19 and from past staff presentations, it was made clear that some property owners are actively converting their long-term rentals into short-term rentals, and I am concerned that this will become more prevalent as we approach the 2021 athletics championships in Eugene.
Stay tuned: Council action may still occur after this new committee finishes its process and reports back.

My source has the ever-hopefulness of the young. But it is seeming to me (age 56) that on housing at least, this Council will not take a firm stand on anything unless it enjoys 100% approval among its most vocal constituents, like passing a resolution in support of a Climate Strike. And on housing, that is rarely if ever going to happen.

Sadly, there are at present no passionate and outspoken defenders of the citys rental housing stock, or the rights and needs of renters, on the Council. On many housing issues, the effects on renters and rental housing do not even surface as important considerations. (I am hopeful this will change with the election of candidates Tim Morris or Eliza Kashinsky [Ward 1], Ryan Moore [Ward 8], and Matt Keating [Ward 2]. Tim and Ryan are renters and founders of SETA.)

I once again appreciated Register-Guard reporter Christian Hill s detailed article on the Councils inaction, but reading it led me to conceive of this boilerplate summary of such issues in the future, which could save him the time of attending Council meetings:

On the urgent housing-related issue of ____________ [ADUs, STRs, fill in other issues in Comments], the Eugene City Council — after being presented with a well-researched menu of policy options by their very competent staff several weeks before, but then hearing divergent views among citizens, including some well-organized loud ones, no matter what the merits of the arguments or how few Eugene residents were represented by one side — decided to postpone making a decision so that it could avoid displeasing anyone. They (choose one or more):

  • ordered a committee to study the issue for months
  • hired a consultant/firm to study the issue for months
  • scheduled one or more public forums several months in the future (which would give their preferred side more time to organize)
  • ordered presentations in each neighborhood (a process that would take many months, and would give their preferred side more time to organize)

None of this is how good public policy is made. A leader is supposed to weigh competing interests and decide what is in the best interests of the entire community. Not to bow to

  • the loudest voice(s) in the room
  • the ones who have a financial interest to protect, and so make the time to organize
  • the ones who threaten to sue
  • the ones who have the luxury of time, often by virtue of retirement and/or wealth, to spend what could be 2-3 hours at Harris Hall in order to get three minutes to speak before the Council (one can submit written testimony, but it seems widely believed that speaking in person is far more effective). (Quaintly, sending a letter in the mail is also said to be effective.)
  • the ones who are not too burdened with child care, eldercare, working two jobs to pay the rent, social anxiety/fear of public speaking, lack of transportation, et al., to participate in this curious performance-art ritual of Eugene-style <democracy>

Result:

  • Renters and housing are not getting protected, when this should be the #1 priority of government in a community with a housing emergency. (NOT to protect the rights of investors to make as much money as possible at the expense of Eugene residents who need housing, or of property owners to see their asset increase in value to the maximum degree. This community needs to ask: How much is enough?
    In a community where fully half the population rents, elected leaders role is, at a minimum, to balance the needs and rights of homeowners with the needs of renters – who seem to literally and figuratively never have had a seat at the table.
  • Additional housing is not created or built, and/or existing housing continues to be further depleted.
  • Rents rise.
  • Homelessness increases.
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • For my part, I once again consider moving to Springfield, where such issues at least seem part of the civic dialogue and publicly proclaimed government policy.

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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