Eugene architect/developer Dylan Lamar with a quick minute on his Backyard Barnraising, project, designed to enable three working-class families to build and purchase a small house (~800sf) on a shared lot near downtown Springfield; may still be taking applications
Isaac Judd on the local real estate market (owner-occupied-home buyers vs. investors) and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (on whose advisory committee he serves)
Eugene Weekly journalist Taylor Perse on her recent cover story featuring the Lane County Poor Farm, which operated from 1910 thru 1953: <County commissioners purchased an 87-acre farm off of a northern section of Coburg Road, which today is County Farm Road. The property was a mile south of the McKenzie River. The main farmhouse on the property was built for about $127,841 in today’s dollars…. Around 25 people lived there each month….>
Upcoming MicroDwellers events:
Tours of the Eugene Mission, Community Supported Shelters, and Summit Structures of Oregon (a maker of inexpensive structures in Springfield)
The first City Council candidates debate on housing, on the evening of Jan. 14 at Civic Winery (don t miss it!)
MicroDwellers (and SquareOne Villages) presentation to the Neighborhood Leaders Council Housing + Homelessness Committee (Thurs., Jan. 23 at noon, McNail-Riley House across from the fairgrounds)
A note on timing: Feel free to join us later if you are not able to arrive by 5:30.
Public transit options to Viking Braggot: LTD bus: 24, 82 LTD Trip Planner: http://www.ltd.org
Future possible: March: Kim Otomo of Springfield on his innovative tiny/small housing development in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He says, <We are using an HOA with language to keep the houses owner-occupied, and also to keep the prices down, by limiting sales based on actual income data. We also are putting in place a buy-back program, similar to Habitat for Humanity developments.>
ETA for the time-challenged: Click this link to read a 250-word summary of the key points in this post, published as a letter to Eugene Weekly in the December 19, 2019, issue. [Late-breaking correction: Delete <Many of these houses are owned by outside investors (including dozens by Expedia).> The map prepared by City staff used the word <owned> when it meant <listed>.]
When I moved back to Eugene a year and a half ago and began encouraging Seattle friends to visit me, I was surprised but pleased to see hundreds of Eugene listings on Airbnb. My friends could have much to choose from — everything from a campsite in a backyard ($20/night) to an entire unoccupied 6-bedroom house at $500/night. (No one chose that.) [Note: As of 1/13/20, this listing has dropped to $350/night … either an indicator that it was overpriced, or a seasonal fluctuation — rainy January is likely not the most popular time to visit Eugene.]
I was surprised because — like many longtime residents — I did not think there would be that much demand. Eugene wasnt All That, after all, not like Seattle or San Francisco.
That was before I realized how much Duck fever had transformed this <large small town> where I attended college 35 years ago. In those days the University of Oregon Ducks were a perennially losing team, the <Fighting Duck> was a joke, and college athletics were largely ignored by everyone I knew. (What is now the Duck Store, at the edge of campus, was called the University of Oregon Bookstore and sold books, not hundreds of varieties of green and yellow sportswear.)
Nowadays, it turns out that scads of parents, alumni, and others in town for a Ducks game keep many of the small-scale short-term rentals (a room in a house, a backyard cottage) full. They are listed on a host of platforms, including Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, TripAdvisor, and Booking.com.
Expedia also owns the STR platforms HomeAway and VRBO, and has more recently acquired several platforms focused on short-term rental of apartments, a new market that its competitor Airbnb had already begun to exploit. According to an article on Skift,
Expedia’s acquisition shows that its target market of properties is increasingly blurring with Airbnb’s…. In the early days, Airbnb focused on helping people to rent out their homes or apartments on a short-term basis, while HomeAway has emphasized whole home vacation rentals in resort destinations. In recent years, though, the companies have been targeting all aspects of the rental market.
In a more enlightened, renter-friendly Eugene, these larger, now-investor-owned houses would make excellent co-living residences, especially if managed by a local company or nonprofit patterned after companies such as Community Room Rental of Charlotte, North Carolina, which partners with homeowners to deliver rooms at more affordable rents than individual apartments.
In Eugene, oversight of STRs has so far been limited to requiring owners to pay a Transient Room Tax; no licensing or permit is required (page 3). Because of a statewide law, the proceeds of the tax fund cultural services, rather than affordable housing as in at least some other states.
How many are there?
Table 1. Eugene Airbnb listings as of Nov. 1, 2019
Priceline: a smattering are shown on the Citys map
Booking.com: 11 (At the Sept. 23 City Council work session, staff reported finding 823 Eugene listings on Booking.com, but we found just 47, of which only 11 were vacation homes or apartments; most were actual hotels or motels.)
How many are entire houses/apartments?
We saw no precise way to determine this using Airbnbs too-simple categories (selecting entire place yields a long list that includes hundreds of backyard cottages as well as hundreds of entire multi-bedroom houses), but a scan of listings at various price points suggested that at least a third of the 1,154 Eugene Airbnb listings are entire houses with no owner present. This estimate is likely too conservative; in New York City, to cite just one example, entire-homes/apartments constitute 51% of Airbnb listings and 75% of its revenue.
Why is this a problem?
Eugene, and the entire West Coast, has a severe shortage of affordable housing. We need to create much more, but we also need to preserve the housing we have. The short-term rental industry has already removed thousands of bedrooms from the Eugene housing market and is poised to increase exponentially, especially given the much-anticipated World Track Championships in 2021.
Many studies (NYC, Canada, LosAngeles) have shown that STRs lead to a rise in rents and reduce the number of affordable housing units. At least 32 jurisdictions in Oregon now regulate them, with Eugene now the largest municipality in the state to be asleep on the issue.
Ashland, Bend, Portland, and Salem (pages 7-10) have enacted regulations that were cited by City staff in their recommendations to Council
Hosts are taxed $8-$14/night; proceeds fund affordable housing 💞 + the citys STR licensing program. [Currently, the Eugene transient-room tax funds cultural services. Affordable housing seems to us a more appropriate beneficiary.]
The City tweeted that its goal was to “limit mass conversion of long-term housing for Seattleites into short-term rentals, while still allowing people to rent out their homes.” We hope to elect City Councilors in 2020 who understand the need to protect Eugenes rental housing stock.
Upcoming City Council action: Dec. 11
This summer the Eugene City Council finally directed staff to look into regulation. Council held a work session on STRs on Sept. 23 and scheduled another on Dec. 11 at noon to consider a draft ordinance. According to the December South University Neighborhood newsletter and staff comments at the November Housing Policy Board meeting, the draft ordinance will include at least the following items:
Yearly license fee.
Owner-occupancy requirement — for instance, the homeowner must live on site at least 275 days/year.
Limit on the number of days a unit can be rented — for instance, 90 days.
Basis for license revocation, including number of complaints per calendar year.
Requirement for STR platforms to maintain a registry and ensure that hosts have a business license + collect transient-room tax (TRT). Santa Monica and Portland already have such regulations. According to The New York Times, Seattle, San Francisco, and London all require STR platforms to share data through a registration system for listings. New York City is currently being sued by Airbnb and HomeAway over its approach.)
There have been indications that Airbnb is organizing its hosts to lobby against regulation, and at least one Airbnb host is running for City Council (Kate Davidson in Ward 2, who gushed about the merits of Airbnb when interviewed by Eugene Weekly about her candidacy).
Also consider testifying for 3 minutes at the next City Council public forum on Mon., Dec. 9, a few days before the Council work session. In this curious and time-consuming public ritual of Eugene democracy, signup to speak begins at 7pm, but arriving earlier to get in line is likely advisable if you want to speak early in the evening, as 350 Eugene members will be doing the same to testify on the Climate Action Plan. You may wish to connect your comments to climate action/sustainability — for instance, protecting our rental housing means workers will be able to afford to live in Eugene rather than commute from less-expensive areas, thus lessening our areas greenhouse gas emissions.
A final note
It seems important that Eugene coordinate STR policies with Springfield. If Eugene clamps down on STRs but Springfield does not, STR activity might simply move to Springfield, and have the same deleterious effects on that community.
ETA 12/12/19: In an all-too-common response when faced with a needed policy change that some of its constituents have organized to vocally oppose, at its STR work session the Council refused to take immediate action to protect housing for Eugene residents, instead appointing an advisory committee to give it recommendations by the end of March (staff had already given it recommendations based on regulations in other Oregon cities, including Ashland, Bend, Portland, and Salem) and postponing its own action till possibly as late as July 2020, during which time even more of our housing stock can be snapped up by this industry and partitioned off for tourists only. Read more about it here.
I can use many phrases to describe the way I live now, and yet none fully does it justice, because the way I live now is almost nonexistent in the United States.
One way: I live in a 44-bedroom rooming house catycorner from my alma mater, the University of Oregon.
Because the building provides not only room but also board (chef-prepared meals served in a dining hall downstairs), boardinghouse may actually be the more accurate term, making it an even rarer beast in the United States in 2019.
Each resident here has a 220-square-foot micro-apartment with a private bathroom, a huge and ingeniously designed closet, and a small balcony that fits two chairs, so a friend and I can enjoy the late-afternoon Oregon sun in the spring, summer, and early fall.
Each micro-apartment comes with a microwave and mini-fridge, but not a full kitchen. Our daily meals are made downstairs by a team of chefs, and an array of snacks, beverages, basics (dry cereal, oatmeal, bread, peanut butter, apples, coffee and tea, and too many fresh-baked desserts) are available in our dining hall 24/7.
Any leftovers from meals are packaged in single-serving containers and put in the communal fridge, and usually disappear within 24 hours.
Another way: I live in a privately run dorm, constructed in 1989 by a mission-driven developer who sought to provide academically minded students with an atmosphere suitable for “quiet enjoyment.” Luckily for me, he also admits non-students who are attracted to that lifestyle. Applicants have to submit three character references, and applications are taken all year; by April or May, there’s already a waiting list for the coming academic year (late September through mid-June).
Some other terms: microhousing (a term not yet well known in the US outside major cities, and often even within them); residential hotel(back in the day, these were common, especially for single working women in major cities; the Barbizon Hotel in New York City is a well-known example); co-living residence; and/or SRO or SRO 2.0.
Personally, I usually avoid using the term SRO because of the unfortunate associations it conjures. Ninety years ago, SROs were a common form of housing for people of modest means — <naturally occurring affordable housing> (NOAH), in housing-policy jargon. A century ago, a passable room might cost 35 cents per night (the equivalent of $8 today), and required no screening or background check, no rental or credit history, and little or no deposit. According to Living Downtown; The History of Residential Hotels in the United States by Paul Groth (available online at no charge), SRO units may have numbered as high as 90,000 in San Francisco in the early 1930s.
Only a relative few survive, in places such as San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago, thanks to the dedicated work of advocates for low-income housing. According to San Francisco’s Central City SRO Collaborative, that city’s 518 SRO buildings are home to more than 30,000 people — far more than live in federally funded public housing in the city, which comprises 6,096 permanently affordable units and another 10,000 people housed via Section 8 vouchers. More of the fascinating history of SROs in San Francisco is chronicled here and in Up from the Deep, creation of the late, gifted photographer and historian Mark Ellinger, whom it was my privilege to know.
In May 2018, when I stumbled across the listing for my current residence while researching how to find affordable housing in DC for The Young Leaders Guide to Internships, Scholarships, and Fellowships in Washington, DC, and Beyond, I wasnt thinking about honoring the venerable history of SROs in America, or even of living a bit as the acerbic writer Dorothy Parker had in her later years, in a residential hotel (the Volney). I just jumped at the chance to live affordably, have meals made for me, and relocate next to my beloved alma mater. As a writer yearning to live a simple, stress-free life in a culturally stimulating place, I felt I had found nirvana.
So what happens when a 55-year-old woman moves into a 220-square-foot room with 47 college students, and founds a local organization (which you can join for free) to spread awareness of + increase opportunities for microdwelling? Read on!
Arguably the best policy, but every so often one cant avoid it. Feel free to plagiarize or adapt the response below as you encounter anti-homeless comments on social media (and/or in real life).
This particular comment featured the quaint notion that all a homeless Eugenean would have to do to be housed was to get a job, so that is where I began my response.
You are sadly uninformed about the high cost of housing in Eugene today (and it is even higher in many places in the US). A huge percentage of the 2,100+ unhoused people in Eugene/Springfield have a job; 40% of families coming to ShelterCare have at least one employed member. I know employed people who are sleeping in cars in our neighborhood because they cant get a place to live in Eugene — they are struggling to save up first + last months rent + a deposit + application fees on a minimum-wage salary. There are 80 families in the city-sanctioned Overnight Car Camping program overseen by St. Vincent de Paul, and 70 more on the waiting list. The waiting lists for subsidized housing are all closed.
For those wanting to learn more, try the Eugene Housing Literacy Test: bit.ly/housing-test. Then tune in to groups like Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers and Better Housing Together, which are working for the change that is essential to reduce the number of our neighbors who are unhoused — smaller and more affordable housing in abundant supply. Eugenes neighborhoods have resisted this for years, and it needs to stop. The consequences of this selfish, misguided prejudice have been disastrous and literally fatal for some.
Forty-four percent of area residents struggle to meet their basic needs — they live in poverty or have low-paying jobs and few assets, as detailed in the United Ways excellent ALICE report: http://bit.ly/alice-report . Most Americans are one medical emergency or other catastrophe away from being homeless. We need to stop demonizing the unhoused as some kind of strange other breed of people, because they are us. Beyond that, a shocking number of them are elders or children. Eight percent of the children in the Bethel School District are homeless, and thirty-five percent of those staying at the Eugene Mission are 50 or older.
Our mayor and City Councilors would be encouraging this and doing it publicly themselves, if they wanted to provide real leadership.
If you cant handle that much reality, watch a few videos in the Invisible People channel on YouTube, which interviews unhoused people across America and allows them to tell their stories. Then count your blessings, appreciate your privilege, and consider what you might do to be part of the solution.
In our conversations with Eugeneans, especially longtime homeowners, we have found that many lack basic information about the housing situation in Eugene today.
We hope this test can be a tool for deepening understanding, starting conversations, and broadening the dialogue about the many solutions that are needed.
First, take the test (without answers) at bit.ly/housing-test; then check below to see how you did.
If you find the test useful, share the link with your friends and neighbors. Feel free to share printed copies of the test too.
What percentage of Eugeneans are renters? (Nationwide: 36%.) 51%.
What is a standard rent for a newer downtown Eugene studio apartment or small 1BR apartment? Rents at Broadway Place Apartments begin at $1,151 for the smallest studio (490sf); the still-to-be-built Ferry Street Manor said its rents will begin at $1,100 for a studio. The median rent in Eugene overall is $1,058.
What is the monthly income of the median Eugene renter household? Around $2,170, or $26,000/year.
What percentage of Eugene renter households are rent-burdened (pay more than 30% of their income for rent)? 58%.
What is the rental vacancy rate in Eugene? (Nationwide: 7%.) 2.4%.
How many applications did Emerald Village Eugene receive for a single vacancy in October 2019? About 50. The new resident was chosen by lottery and then vetted.
How many unrelated people can legally share a 10-bedroom house in Eugene? Eugene’s occupancy limit for unrelated people is five. This outdated rule has been removed as a Fair Housing violation by a number of cities, including Bend, but remains on the books here as of this writing.
What percentage of Eugene land used for housing currently allows only single-family homes? About 80%. (Typical of many US cities.)
This is now set to change gradually over time. A state law passed in 2019 provides that by 2022, smaller forms such as duplexes, quadplexes, townhouses, and cottage clusters will be allowed in residential neighborhoods. (Note: The law does not include larger apartment or condo buildings.)
Why doesnt Eugene have a home-sharing program that matches homeowners with people needing an affordable place to live? Trick question: There is no reason Eugene shouldn’t have such a program, as many other caring communities across the US do! We want to connect people interested in establishing one here. Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to learn more and join other Eugeneans working for housing solutions? For starters, we recommend:
Better Housing Together (a coalition of dozens of local organizations concerned about housing, including civic groups such as AARP Oregon, BRING, FOOD for Lane County, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP Eugene/Springfield branch, 1000 Friends of Oregon, the United Way of Lane County, and WomenSpace)
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>
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.
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.
This post is for anyone who still believes the myth most or all people are unhoused because they have drug/alcohol/mental health problems, or they <choose to live that way>.
A few posts from the Facebook group Eugene/Springfield Resources, in response to the question <What is one thing you NEED that you cannot afford right now?>
Need help with my december rent, will be getting 72 hour notice by no later than monday and I am almost 71 with no place to go
A livable RV or trailer for my daughter. as long as everything works in it and its livable it would be the best christmas gift ever her car keep breaking down then it got towed one night she had to get it out shes been homeless for 3 or 4 months
Queen size bed and bedding. Got into a place after living in the car for a year. My 7 year old has a bed to sleep in. Hubbs and I are on the floor and I’m fat old and dying lol
Prayers and positive thoughts for my son an his girlfriend that are in the streets.
In the America of 2019, in communities across the country and especially on the West Coast, lack of affordable housing is the #1 reason for homelessness.
Eugenes poverty rate is 21.7%, and an estimated 130 more people slip into homelessness in Lane County each month.
I rather like the idea that some are talking about of a NOAH Alliance, composed of all the local providers of naturally occurring affordable housing (referred to as NOAH by some policy wonks) in Eugene — non-subsidized housing affordable to the average Eugene renter.
It is important to highlight the essential service these providers, from venerable housing co-ops to modern quads to rooming houses to homeowners renting modest ADUs, are doing for this community. Currently, most of them are not even known by most residents (especially homeowners).
A NOAH Alliance also evokes the image of lifting up our residents and sheltering them from catastrophe, which is literally the role of affordable housing in Eugene today.
A visible NOAH Alliance could play an important role in encouraging other private property owners to join in this essential civic cause (for instance, by holding a workshop for Eugene homeowners wanting to build an inexpensive ADU).
The average renter makes $22K-$26K/year, so NOAH Alliance members would be those renting housing for $550-$650/month or less (30% of this income).
The only question is who has time, resources, and social purpose to organize it … ?
Many homeowners, especially empty-nesters and seniors, come to our Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers social hours because they are exploring ways to house more people on their property — which we find heartening and encouraging! Below are four possibilities we think are worth considering.
1. Backyard cottages (ADUs)
Many of the homeowners who come to us (especially older single women) want to create an inexpensive cottage in the backyard that they can live in, while renting out their main house. (These cottages are known as ADUs, or accessory dwelling units, in building code.)
Creating a legally permitted, inexpensive ADU is much more possible in Springfield, which has waived SDC charges through June 2022 and established a dedicated web page explaining the process (including a video and podcast). Local architect/developer (and MicroDwellers member) Dylan Lamar, in a recent Eugene Weekly article, expressed interest in partnering with homeowners to build and co-own ADUs there. Interested folks can contact him through his website.
Financing has been an issue, but institutions are catching up, given the increasing demand. Fannie Mae recently made it easier for people to finance their own home improvements — including, for the first time, the construction of ADUs — through a loan program called HomeStyle Renovation. (A variety of companies, such as Rent the Back Yard and United Dwelling, will bankroll an ADU and divide the rent with a homeowner for a set number of years, but so far they operate only in much more expensive housing markets, such as California.)
In Eugene, unfortunately, a majority on the current City Council has blocked ADUs for years. (Electing a few more pro-housing Councilors in 2020 can change this.) In 2014, the Council enacted a slew of ADU requirements and restrictions that slowed legally permitted ADUs to an average of two per year. (In contrast, LA issued more than 3,800 permits for ADUs in 2017.) Housing advocates successfully sued Eugene for violating a state law requiring communities to allow ADUs; the Council then spent all of 2019 postponing decision-making and still has not passed a revised ordinance to comply with the law.
One happy note: Thanks to a new state law, as of January 1, 2020, Eugene and other cities may not require owner occupancy or additional off-street parking in order to approve an ADU. Many other, probably illegal requirements remain in the ordinance, however.
ADUs have the potential to add thousands of lower-cost units to our housing stock, with no public subsidy.
There are 43,000 city tax lots in Eugene large enough for an ADU. If the owners of just 5% of those lots built ADUs, Eugene would gain an additional 2,100 units of housing!
With a pro-housing majority on the Council, Eugene could follow the lead of other cities and encourage ADUs by
waiving permitting fees and system development charges (SDCs), especially for ADUs of 400sf or less, or if homeowners guaranteed that the ADU would be affordable to renters making 30% of the area median income
making simple preapproved plans available on the City website
authorizing City staff to encourage and guide homeowners through the process
2. Homesharing (with one other person)
The number of Americans over 50 who live with a friend or unmarried partner has jumped 75% nearly a decade. Dozens of communities across the country have homesharing services that connect homeowners with vetted tenants, run by nonprofits or local government. Some are for senior homeowners, and others serve all ages. (Having housemates may be the new retirement plan: 50 million Americans over 50 have less than $50,000 saved for retirement.) Below are a few homesharing programs in other West Coast communities. The new Affordable Shared Housing NW page on Facebook also seeks to connect those interested in homesharing.
San Mateo County, California: HIPhousing (all ages), a well-developed, longtime nonprofit program of the Human Investment Project (check out their inspiring video)
Portland: MetroShare (all ages), a nonprofit program of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (video)
Olympia: Home Share (senior homeowners), a nonprofit program of Senior Services for South Sound
Set to begin in March in Portland: Oregon Home Share, a nonprofit program of Oregon Harbor of Hope, possibly in partnership with Silvernest. Aiming to place age-55+ women in danger of or experiencing homelessness.
Senior Homeshares, a nonprofit that is free to use, begun in 2015. It has about 6,000 members, mainly in Colorado (where it is based), California, and Florida. There are a smattering in Oregon, and could likely be many more if it were promoted locally. It doesnt do any vetting of potential renters, though.
Silvernest, a nationwide for-profit platform open to all ages. It has matched more than 60,000 housemates. Senior homeowners pay $25/month, while tenants can list themselves at no charge. Most listings are in Colorado (where Silvernest is based), California, and Florida, with plans for expansion to Seattle. Silvernest has partnered with Teach for America to house Colorado teachers, and is about to partner with Oregon Harbor of Hope to house lower-income Portland women age 55+; this program, called Oregon Home Share, launches this spring. (At present, the Silvernest database includes no homeowners within 100 miles of Eugene.)
Until some individuals or organizations in Lane County step forward to meet this need, homeowners can seek housemates on the Eugene Rooms and Eugene Conscious Community Housing Board Facebook pages, and on Craigslist. (None provide any vetting, of course.) They can also list themselves on the national platforms above.
3. Group house / intentional community
For those wishing to share life with a group of people, several models exist:
An intentional community with a benevolent landlord-homeowner, such as the Duma Community, where nine people share a 10-bedroom house, or Maitreya Ecovillage, where 25-35 people live in a diverse array of dwellings on several adjacent lots. (For seniors, the TV show Golden Girls is often cited as a model. We havent found a real-life one in Eugene yet, but the media frequently report on examples elsewhere.) Residents may govern themselves day-to-day, but if a contentious issue must be resolved, the homeowner-landlord often has the final say.
A housing cooperative in which the residents govern themselves, such as the Walnut Street Co-op, where nine people share a 10-bedroom house, or the East Blair Housing Cooperative, where about 40 people live in a diverse array of dwellings on 10 adjacent and nearby properties.
Although this option doesnt yet exist in Eugene, we wanted to make people aware of yet another innovation that is increasingly common around the world: co-living companies, such as Bungalow (active in Portland), which sublease homes from their owners on a long-term lease, then rent out the bedrooms to vetted tenants on individual leases. They also often provide activities to build community among house residents.
A Eugene homeowner could move elsewhere and have a co-living company manage their home, thus providing more-affordable lodgings to a host of Eugene residents without having any landlord-type responsibilities.
Jason Wallace of Community Room Rental in Charlotte, North Carolina, told me their highly successful service (100 bedrooms total, 100% full) is interested in franchising, and he is convinced that their business model could work anywhere.
Note: Ideally there would be nonprofit co-living companies that pledge to keep rents affordable. Perhaps those will emerge in time. Meanwhile, this is an alternative to operating a short-term rental that earns income for the owner of the house but also provides housing for local residents. We welcome comments from people who have personal experience with it.
An overall note re #3 and #4
Hundreds of multi-bedroom homes that could be perfect co-living residences, group houses, or housing co-ops are being rented to tourists via short-term rental (STR) platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO — further depleting our already inadequate supply of housing. In December 2019, the Eugene City Council postponed action on regulating entire-house STRs until as late as June or July 2020. As with many housing issues, electoral change may be necessary to move this issue forward.
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
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.
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.
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
Encourage providers of what isnowunfortunatelylabeledstudenthousing (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.
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.
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.
About 20% of Eugene’s carbon emissions come from burning gasoline and diesel fuel to power vehicles.
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.
Start encouraging and rewarding car-free lifestyles. How about having the mayor give out a Car-Free Citizen Award each year?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.)
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.)
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 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.