Report: City Club forum on short-term rentals

So this happened. This is what passes for civic dialogue on an urgent housing-related issue in Eugene in early 2020. (We need to change this.)

A packed roomful of mostly retired white homeowners met at noon on a workday to hear not one but two representatives of the short-term rental (STR) industry describe its many benefits to the community (tax revenue!!) and to themselves personally.

(They led with: Property rights! aka, I suppose, <We will sue your *&^ if you try to regulate us.>)

(Housing crisis? Too big a need at too low a price point, we didnt cause it, we have no responsibility to help fix it, we wont acknowledge that we are profiting handsomely from it via the inflation of our property values, and we know no one on this panel will challenge that analysis.)

A UO professor tried gamely but unsuccessfully to squeeze her extensive research on Airbnb in 237 Oregon cities into a single 10-minute slot.

A Southeast neighbor (homeowner) of a poorly managed non-owner-occupied STR described her seven years of suffering, referring to herself ironically as <the bluebird of happiness in the room>.

She also revealed that her particular offending NOOSTR has finally been sold, so her troubles have ended.

She never cited any broader data on STRs impact on communities from either Eugene or other cities, or recommended any particular regulatory solution among the many pursued by other cities.

How to best regulate the STR industry for the good of the community, what I would have hoped would be the focus of the discussion, was left nearly unaddressed; evidently it wasnt of interest to the forum organizers.

To her credit, Councilor Emily Semple attended this forum and asked that question in the very brief time allowed for Q&A [five minutes], but none of the panelists were qualified to address it; Dr. Lewis was a neutral researcher rather than a policy advocate.

Renter and #RentLocal advocate Rebecca Blankenship, a member of the 16-member, City-appointed ad hoc committee on STRs currently struggling to reach agreement on recommendations (having just extended its existence into April, from the original mid-March deadline), was granted the privilege of asking the first question, in which she attempted to reframe the issue as housing availability vs. private greed. (Greeted with oohhs from the crowd, but not continued by other questioners.)

At least a half-dozen other questioners were left waiting in line for the microphone when the forum ended promptly at 1:15 p.m.)

Other than Rebecca, renters advocates were largely not in the room — and, in any case, were not allowed to ask questions of the panelists directly. Only City Club members are allowed to do that.

Membership in City Club is $75 for the first year and $145 after the first year — a hefty price in this low-income community that, combined with the weekday noon meeting time, clearly (from a glance at the room) effectively deters full participation by young people, renters, and working people, who are limited to listening to an audio recording of the forum posted on the local public radio station website the following week.

Ironically, in the Q&A at the previous weeks forum on workforce recruitment [around 53:00], a Club member had noted the demographic in the room and asked the panelists for suggestions on recruiting younger people to the Club.

Why not ask the young people currently running for City Council [who attended this forum but arent members], I wonder, or start by doing what the City Club of Portland does, offer the weekly forums alternately at noontime and in the evening throughout the month?

The #RentLocal Coalition is planning a more inclusive, community- and renter-centered forum on STRs to follow the release of the ad hoc STR committees recommendations. It will be free and held at a time and place when young people, renters, and working people can attend. Stay tuned.

Published by Sherri Schultz

Writer & change-maker exploring micro-dwelling in Eugene, Oregon. Founder of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers: .

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