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MicroDwellers social hour, Wed., April 8 (online): sanity check in; meet others interested in small affordable housing; Q&A/chat with Sarai Johnson

In this time of coronavirus, please join our Meetup group to stay in the loop and receive invites to our events on Zoom.

We also have a Facebook page (where we share ideas) and an Instagram account (where we share photos of where we have been), both @microdwellers.

APRIL – Sarai Johnson! (we hope) – Wed. April 8, 5:30-7:30pm (join us on Zoom anytime; see Meetup page for link)
In these times of lockdown, reassessment and puzzlement, lets check in with each other. There will also be brief updates about Home Share Oregon and other microdwelling projects of attendees.

We have scheduled as our special guest/speaker Sarai Johnson, recently hired Lane County Joint Shelter and Housing Strategist, but also note she is a frontline worker in dealing with coronavirus. So lets hope for the best and be flexible and understanding if she has a last-minute commitment.

MAY – Housing co-ops! – Tues., May 55:30-7:30pm (join anytime)
Join us as we aim to return to our regular First Tuesday date/time.

We will have (most important) a basic sanity check-in, then brief updates about Home Share Oregon and other microdwelling projects of attendees.

In our speaker segment, we will have several featured guests for 5-10 minutes each, talking about co-ops formed here 20-40 years ago that are still providing low-cost housing today, most below $500/month for a single person (some have dwellings for families too). What can we learn to help us create more in the future?

Afterward, to the extent possible online, we will have chatting among ourselves in smaller groups according to interests (using Zooms Break Rooms feature).

MAY – Jan Spencers One-Earth Living event – Thurs., May 7 5:30-8:30pm, join/come anytime
Check back closer to the day; this was envisioned as an in-person event, but depending on guidance from the governor/CDC, it may be moved to Zoom or postponed again.
River Road permaculture evangelist Jan Spencer will share his slide presentation on One-Earth Living at 6:30-7:30pm. We can chat among ourselves (sanity check-in) beforehand, and afterward there will be small-group conversation circles on microdwelling and housing co-ops, car-free living, sustainability, and related topics.
JUNE – Tues., June 9 – 5:30-7:30pm (join anytime)
JULY – Tues., July 7 – 5:30-7:30pm (join/come anytime)
We hope this one can be outdoors in person at Ciderlicious in River Road. Check back closer to the day.

Announcements/quick updates since February (the last sizable in-person social hour):
* Fred – is joining the board of Community Supported Shelters!
* Sherri – has become a/the Lane County liaison for Home Share Oregon, a statewide program launching this spring/summer to connect homeowners with renters seeking a room. It is especially seeking homeowners. Anyone interested is encouraged to sign up for its periodic e-newsletter via the website to be notified of its progress and launch.
* Dylan – check his website for updates on the Backyard Barnraising project

POSSIBLE featured guests for future social hours (speaking for 5 minutes each on a housing-related project they are involved with)

Tiny-House Takeover:

  • (Reminder: Amanda will need to come at 5pm) Amanda Dellinger of SquareOne Villages on Cottage Village, their newest, almost-finished community of 13 tiny houses in Cottage Grove, and their future second community of tiny houses in Eugene (34 on several acres currently owned by a church)
  • Ron Severson of MAPLE Microdevelopment, which has worked in Uganda, Chile, and now with Emerald Village Eugene residents on developing collective microenterprises and strengthening their individual financial capacity
  • Russ Dregne of Summit Structures/TinyHouse4U in Springfield
  • Greywater Action co-founder Laura Allen, now of Eugene

Other possible future speakers:

  • Housing advocate and realtor Isaac Judd on the local real estate market (owner-occupied-home buyers vs. investors) and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee (on which he serves)
  • Alexis Biddle, Urban Lands Advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon, on what housing advocates in Corvallis and around the state are doing
  • Kim Otomo of Springfield on
    • His proposal to Springfield for a cottage cluster project: six 300-500sf homes on individual small lots, which could sell to buyers of modest means for around $75K. First-time homebuyer programs from Springfield + the State of Oregon could provide up to $17K in assistance, with the goal of keeping the total mortgage, property tax and insurance payment under $500/month.
    • His project on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: <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.>
  • A South Eugene gent who has worked with the City over several years to secure approval of a co-living development on one tax lot that will include a single-family house, a two-story greenhouse, an attached mother-in-law quarters, an RV hookup [for a tiny house], an ADU, and a home-office space.
  • Julie Fischer on the River Road/Santa Clara Neighborhood Plan, a forward-thinking and sustainable plan for growth that will be in compliance with HB2001. Its five zoning categories include Corridor-Mixed Use and Residential-Middle. Check out the colorful maps and illustrations here.
  • Ward 1 City Council candidate Eliza Kashinsky on the affordable-housing boomlet in Cottage Grove (where she works), a small nearby community that welcomes more housing, including duplexes and, not surprisingly, cottages
  • Eugene Weekly journalist Taylor Perse on her January 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….>
  • (one day, we hope to lure) UO talent: Dr. Rebecca Lewis on her research on short-term rentals in Oregon; Dr. Nico Larco and Dr. Marc Schlossberg on the Sustainable City Year Program and their students work on transit with LTD this year.

Lies from the White House: a message to the future

This will be repeatedly updated, hopefully only till January 20, 2021. Let us pray. Begun by a YouTube commenter.

Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control.”

Jan. 24: “It will all work out well.”

Jan. 29: “Just received a briefing on the Coronavirus in China from all of our GREAT agencies, who are also working closely with China. We will continue to monitor the ongoing developments. We have the best experts anywhere in the world, and they are on top of it 24/7!”

Feb. 10: “I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine.”

Feb. 14: “We have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it. It’s like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some are fully recovered already. So we’re in very good shape.”

Feb. 25: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They’re all getting better. … As far as what we’re doing with the new virus, I think that we’re doing a great job.”

Feb. 28: “I think it’s really going well. We did something very fortunate: we closed up to certain areas of the world very, very early — far earlier than we were supposed to. I took a lot of heat for doing it. It turned out to be the right move, and we only have 15 people and they are getting better, and hopefully they’re all better. There’s one who is quite sick, but maybe he’s gonna be fine. … We’re prepared for the worst, but we think we’re going to be very fortunate.”

March 4: “Some people will have this at a very light level and won’t even go to a doctor or hospital, and they’ll get better. There are many people like that.”

March 6: “We did an interview on Fox last night, a town hall. I think it was very good. And I said, ‘Calm. You have to be calm. It’ll go away.’ ”

March 9: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

March 12: “It’s going to go away. … The United States, because of what I did and what the administration did with China, we have 32 deaths at this point … when you look at the kind of numbers that you’re seeing coming out of other countries, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it.”

March 17: “We’re going to win. And I think we’re going to win faster than people think — I hope.”

Now: We have to avoid 1 million deaths. We did a tremendous job, but the governors are to blame.

From other commenters:

You forget the Dem Hoax and I want packed churches by Easter.

Oh, and don’t forget it’s Obama’s fault.

What it is like to live in a mostly-student boardinghouse during a pandemic

This may be the first in an occasional series about life in a community of microstudios near my alma mater where the rent includes meals, utilities, internet and housekeeping, aka an upscale 21st-century boardinghouse.

Living in a boardinghouse may have exposed me to the virus more because of all the folks around, shared doorknobs and stairway railings, etc., but it has also kept me calm and prevented any sense of being alone in a crisis. I have had plenty of people to talk to and a whole staff to support me — chefs, maintenance person, housekeeper, on-site manager.

I havent had to worry about stocking up on groceries, cooking, hyper-cleaning, or doing any household chores other than hand-washing. Our housekeeper even volunteered to clean the filter in my window heater/air conditioner so the air I breathe will be as clean as possible, and said she would be happy to do it monthly.

Management very responsibly instituted a lot of extra protocols in recent days – hand sanitizer everywhere, the housekeeper wiping down stairway rails and dining surfaces repeatedly throughout the day, signs throughout the building that say BE SURE TO SANITIZE. And for the entire week before spring break, a single member of the kitchen staff dished up everyones food, so as to minimize touching of plates. I felt even better served than usual.

Many of my fellow residents are introverts, so social distancing is nothing new here. Even before the time of virus, there were rarely more than a half-dozen residents eating in the dining hall at once, and most ate alone at separate tables (some while reading books, notes, or phones).

I have been eating most meals in my room for my entire time here (except when having guests over), and now that seems a societally sanctioned choice too, one recognized as the best for the health of the community.

I bought a four-roll pack of toilet paper at the corner 7-11 a few weeks ago, as per my usual practice since moving in 20 months ago. It didnt occur to me to hoard toilet paper, or anything else. I dont have the space in a 220-square-foot microstudio, and in any case, I know that toilet paper is not essential to life — my mother described using newspaper in the outhouse during her pre-Depression-era childhood. I also know that if I really needed it for some reason, the building likely has a vast storehouse. Ditto anything else I might need. Living in community = resilience by design.

As one of the only residents staying here during spring break, I got all the perishable leftovers from the kitchen before it closed after lunch Friday. My mini-fridge is chock-full of carrot sticks, yogurt-and-fruit, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and cut fruit from the fruit bar. Also (more substantially) a hearty soup, a black bean/hummus wrap, and a mini-freezer full of leftovers from my recent lunches and dinners. (I am not a large person, and the meals here are quite substantial. I frequently eat only two of the three each day.)

When spring quarter begins, I am told, only a half dozen of our 50 residents will be here (basically the foreign students, who cant go home — including at least one from South Korea). So that will be a new reality. Classes at UO, LCC, and NCU (Northwest Christian University — known as Northwest Christian College when I was a UO student in the 1980s) are being taught online through all of spring term, so most students have gone home for spring break and will stay there.

I hope to have time to post one or more updates on how things develop here. Meanwhile, I am appreciating the slower pace of life, the sudden social acceptability of the lifestyle that comes naturally to most introverts (possibly now even essential to survival), and the incentive to think about my own health rather than just the health (via housing needs) of Eugene. And marveling at the occasional glimpses we are receiving of a planet relieved, if only temporarily, of the damage done by modern humans unsustainable patterns of living.

A Eugenean’s view of San Francisco

Elevator door, Monroe Residence Club, 1870 Sacramento Street, San Francisco

The Thursday issue of the local newspaper featured a travel article in which a probably typical longtime Eugene resident (Oregon bestselling author and renowned Hiking Guy Bill Sullivan) appreciates San Francisco by … avoiding most of San Francisco. (I write this with affectionate bemusement, or is that bemused affection?)

He and his wife stayed in an Airbnb with a hot tub outside San Francisco, in a small town he aptly describes as full of wealthy hippies (Mill Valley).

When I visit, I stay in a single-occupancy hotel off busy Van Ness Avenue, built in 1906, with the worlds creakiest, slowest elevator, featuring a heavy and ornate Chinese door that is no doubt original to the building. I eat breakfast and dinner in the dining room with a wide assortment of local characters, from retired bachelors long in residence who fill me in on local politics, to folks from foreign countries attending a nearby school of translation that uses some of the rooms as lodgings.

Not entirely surprisingly, the Hiking Guy frequented parks and hiking trails on the far western edge of the city (as far away from downtown as possible) and the Muir Woods outside it. Among the many treasures in the areas he deliberately avoided (downtown and the entire eastern half of the city), which I found myself returning to again + again on my last visit: the Ferry Building Farmers Market and Book Passage Ferry Building, with its many free readings; the Citys many other bookstores (although he is a prolific and gifted author!); and the neighborhoods where actual people live … lol.

The few buildings he visited were characterized as pompous (the Legion of Honor) or ridiculous (my aunt s and my beloved Palace of Fine Arts, a few blocks from where we both lived … if I hadnt scattered her ashes on San Francisco Bay at her request, she would be turning over in her urn). The haunting and moving prison museum that is Alcatraz today was dismissed as <derelict cell blocks>.

And of course he drove everywhere he went, whereas I have never bothered to get a drivers license and would never choose to navigate the Bay Area in a car, given the tolls on the bridges (which he paid without evident complaint) and the abundant multi-modal transport (ferry, streetcar, light rail, subway [BART], bus, Lyft, Uber, cab, and probably others I dont know about).

A reminder that housing advocates’ attitudes about the delights of urbanism, and the vibrancy that can result from having more people in an area, are not shared by all.

(Again, I hope it is clear that I write this with affection and much respect for Mr. S. But I am reminded that there are at least two distinct lenses with which people look at the world, and of the need to keep that in mind as we go forward.)

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.

Boilerplate: Interrupting anti-homeless hate on Nextdoor/social media

An unfortunately continuing saga

Much as the election of Donald Trump sanctioned and encouraged hatred and violence toward immigrants on the national scale, the formation of the business-owners group Eugene Wake Up (which announces in its meeting notices that its meetings are closed to the public and the media) may be legitimizing and encouraging hatred of our unhoused neighbors. Here is one possible response.

Feel free to adapt and use whenever you encounter this. I am the Lane County liaison for Home Share Oregon, but other causes to promote could include volunteering with the monthly Share Fair or becoming involved with Carry It Forward or another nonprofit you have personal experience with.

This thread is just terrible, full of lies and misstatements. Please put it out of its misery by not responding anymore. The OP is a troll; they just want to spread their misinformed views, which sow even more hatred and disdain for those struggling in our community. This thread caters to the worst impulses in people.

Lets be better than this, Eugene. Sign up for the Home Share Oregon e-newsletter at www.homeshareoregon.org to stay apprised of the progress of this promising program to *prevent* future homelessness by helping people find simple lodging they can afford, and by helping homeowners get extra income to help pay their mortgage. It aims to launch this spring.

If this thread continues, I would suggest that everyone post something positive to do, or that they already did recently, to help another person.

OR post the actual life story of a homeless person in Eugene, so folks can start understanding that these are our neighbors.

Here is a great start, a masterful compilation of photographs and stories of a wide array of our unhoused neighbors by Chris Pietsch, published in the Register-Guard last summer. https://www.registerguard.com/news/20190804/lane-countys-unhoused-face-challenges-in-finding-place-to-call-home

Boilerplate response to anti-coliving articles, posts + comments

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View of the South Hills from the common-area skydeck of The Pearl ($669/mo. and up),
one of at least a dozen co-living communities in Eugene that are home to residents of all ages

This post was written in response to the posting (without critical analysis) of an anti-co-living article on a local pro-housing Facebook page. Which shows where we are in the work to advance housing diversity here.

As microdwelling options enter the public consciousness in Eugene, I am sure this will be needed again (and again) by me and others, so I am setting it up to be used and reused by anyone who needs it (like an earlier post, <Boilerplate response to anti-homeless comments on social media>).

The headline of this article, and the general tone and content, is anti-co-living, which I am sad to see posted on a YIMBY page. But if that is where we are, its important to know. 

The source of the article, OneZero, primarily covers tech; a more housing-savvy and innovation-supportive site, like CityLab, would likely be a more reliable and thoughtful source of information. To address its need to create some 13,000 units of housing renting for $650/month or less, Eugene needs to consider all possible ways of bringing down the cost of housing, especially those that are actually in practice and working in other cities and towns (as opposed to proposals that sound great but dont work in real life). 

The primary developer/CEO interviewed is interested in revenue, not providing affordable housing, and certainly not deeply affordable housing. Witness his blanket denigration of SROs at the end, when what he is building is one of many modern takes on the SRO, as is what I live in happily today.

The article employs a lot of common, tiresome memes used against the co-living housing type that are already present in the minds of the Eugene, and that YIMBYs should be about dissolving and erasing. It would be great to highlight facts in the article that would be of interest to this audience, though, like that San Jose has created a zoning designation for co-living. That is encouraging!

YIMBYs understand that costs of construction and land vary widely in different areas, and nearly all are much more expensive than Eugene. In particular, San Jose is one of the most expensive areas to build in the country. And that if a developer is 100% motivated by profit, not social good, their development is unlikely to somehow accidentally achieve social good.

I hope Eugene/Springfield YIMBYs will look for and share models of housing that you DO want to see here, and highlight social entrepreneurs (like Guerrilla Development and its Jolenes First Cousin SRO project in Portland). That would be helpful to all of us.

A few (though not all) elements of the not-helpful co-living meme, which are all too common in articles about it, especially outside the housing sector: 

1. The quotation of rent without comparison to the rent for a market-rate apartment **in that area** . Rents are astronomically high in San Jose. There was passing mention that **50% of AMI** there is $65K, meaning that AMI is $130K. (In comparison, Eugenes AMI is around $45K.) If you are thinking of San Jose rent in Eugene terms, you are comparing grapefruits to kumquats. 

Other elements: 
2. An often sneering comparison to a dorm (or SRO), as if that is an unacceptable housing type. This is a major societal prejudice that YIMBYs work to erase, rather than reinforce.

3. Inflated claims by the CEO (many CEOs in every sector do this, and are routinely disregarded).

4. Rejection of the entire housing type because rents in this particular incarnation arent as low as the writer thinks they should be. (Would we reject houses as a type because there are $2 million houses? This type of co-living development is the equivalent of that, in the co-living sector. It is built in an expensive area and marketed to a clientele earning far more than the average Eugene renter. Those are two reasons why co-living here is quite different, and rents for far less. Thank goodness.) 

As with any housing type, to achieve affordability (especially in todays challenging market), the developer needs to be 100% committed to affordability. Otherwise, as with any housing type, there will be pressures all along the way to add features to cater to perceived middle-class (or upper-class) tastes. 

Sadly, this dynamic happens even in nonprofit-built housing (aka Affordable Housing), where donors, other funders, and government (all of whom usually have middle- to upper-class standards) influence what gets built and make it far more expensive to construct and operate than it needs to be.

But these more expensive variants should not be used, certainly by housing advocates, to denounce the whole form. You can easily find $200K+ ADUs and tiny houses [the kind Councilor Mike Clark likes to cite in arguing against lifting the citys many restrictions on ADUs, while advocates see them as one of many possible providers of affordable housing that should be encouraged] … just as you can find $20,000 or entirely DIY versions of ADUs and tiny houses.

Depending on those who design and build it, and numerous other factors (like, in Eugene, the need to often fight protracted legal battles against residents who view more housing as dangerous), co-living can be budget-minded, moderately priced, or expensive. Witness what is happening with tiny houses, and what happened earlier with houseboats in America — originally a cheap, almost squatter-type form of living.

Eugenes many co-living communities, which primarily market to students (who contrary to local stereotype often dont have a lot of money — witness the many food pantries and 30% on Pell grants) offer newly constructed housing, often furnished, on individual leases, at rates that the median working Eugene renter (who makes $22-26K/year) can afford — unlike new standalone studio and 1 BR apartments, many of which rent for $1,100/month and up. Some of these new buildings full of standalone apartments we cant afford were even granted a MUPTE (10-year tax break) — while the co-living form has been specifically excluded, thanks to local anti-density zealots who likely havent had to rent in Eugene in decades and clearly didnt understand the form or its immense potential value to relieving our housing crisis. 

Competition in the co-living sector, as there is in Eugene among the dozen or more co-living buildings, also helps keep prices down. With a vacancy rate of 2.4%, there isnt enough competition among many other forms of housing here. 

For a survey of local co-living options, which quotes co-living rents in *our* area: redefininghome.org/quads

The lowdown on composting toilets: A (belated) report from World Toilet Day 2019

Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers members Helen Goche and Fred Pitts attended the World Toilet Day event at Whirled Pies in downtown Eugene last November, organized by the sustainability nonprofit Greywater Action. They compiled such an info-packed report that I wanted to share it more widely. For those new to greywater, I have added some background on the impressive lead organizer and organization, whom we are fortunate to have in Eugene; greywater pros can skip the first several paragraphs to get to the report.

Laura Allen is a founding member of the nonprofit Greywater Action – For a Sustainable Water Culture. A longtime Bay Area resident, she now lives in Eugene. She authored The Water Wise Home: How to Conserve and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape and Greywater, Green Landscape. She has a BA in environmental science, a teaching credential, and a master’s degree in education.

Laura leads classes and workshops on rainwater harvesting, greywater reuse, and composting toilets. She has participated in state greywater code developments in California and Washington state, was featured in an Ask This Old House episode on greywater, and was the 2014 recipient of the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Award of Water Champion.

Greywater Action was founded in 1999 in California as the Guerrilla Greywater Girls and has evolved over the years. It is now (from its website):

a collaborative of educators who teach residents and tradespeople about affordable and simple household water systems that dramatically reduce water use and foster sustainable cultures of water. Through hands-on workshops and presentations, we’ve led thousands of people through greywater system design and construction and work with policymakers and water districts to develop codes and incentives for greywater, rainwater harvesting, and composting toilets.

We were thrilled to learn about yet another amazing person living in our town, and another resource for building a #SustainableEugene!

* * * * *

Laura hosted the event, opening by explaining that poor sanitary conditions sicken and kill many people, especially children, around the world. The World Health Organization has declared sanitation as a health goal.

Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission representatives Tod Miller and Michelle Miranda explained what MWMC is and how it strives to clean wastewater, with the goal to return it to the Willamette River clean and cool. Fred was interested to learn that the grove of poplars along Highway 99, across from the airport, uses the product of the plant, biosolids, as fertilizer. The wood is harvested every eight to ten years to be used in multiple ways. 

There was a short discussion about what to do in the event of a catastrophe such as an earthquake, which would shut down the MWMC sewage treatment facility. Laura pointed to the book A Sewer Catastrophe Companion as a resource for preparedness.

She also displayed two five-gallon buckets, which make up the “twin-bucket” system for emergency sanitation. It keeps “pee” separate from “poo,” which controls odor. Solids are covered with dry, light materials. The pathogens, other than worms,  stored with a cover on the bucket will die in a few days. Since urine is sterile because it contains no living organisms it can be spread around on the ground among trees.

Ron Davis, a science teacher who moved to Oregon 40 years ago, spoke about his experience. After being denied a permit for a composting toilet by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), he found the right people to open the door for a conditional use permit. Because of his actions, it is now legal to have composting toilets in Oregon. He concluded by noting that it is still economically challenging to certify a composting toilet in Oregon; because of this, many manufacturers don’t, so their products are not legal here.

Pat Lando, executive director of Recode, a Portland-based nonprofit that works to address regulations that are barriers to sustainability, spoke about Recode’s success getting greywater reuse included in the Oregon plumbing code. Lando is also a landscape architect and green infrastructure consultant.   

Tao Orion teaches permaculture at OSU and Aprovecho, based in Cottage Grove, a 40-acre sustainable living education and demonstration center. She explained how various types of composting toilets and systems work — some well and some not so well. Her own home toilet’s waste is piped into a wheeled trash can one floor below. The can is then moved for composting or processing offsite. 

In closing, Laura led us in a game of Toilet Trivia Pursuit, for which we divided into small groups. We named ourselves the Micro——- and were one of the three groups that tied for first place, which earned each of us a prize of a gift card for pizza at Whirled Pies or Laura’s book, The Water Wise Home.

If you would like to know about and attend events like this with others, join Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers — it is a Meetup group that is free to join, and is becoming a hub for people in Lane County interested in small affordable living and sustainability.

Why I will be writing about non-owner-occupied short-term rentals

Non-owner-occupied STRs are only one of many elements contributing to our citys housing shortage, and are not the primary concern of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers. But by a very conservative estimate, they have already removed more than 1,600 bedrooms from the local housing inventory. (A high estimate is 7,000.) Unlike many other housing advocates in Eugene, I dont think that is trivial.

I am also aware that all major cities have already regulated this industry, many beginning several years ago, and I am aware of what has happened in cities that didnt.

At this point there are no others in Eugene educating the public on the need for regulation, and no groups working on the issue other than the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association and an ad hoc group of affected neighbors. So I am going to devote some space to it for at least the next few months.

I suspect this is also a representative example of how Eugene would deal with any new housing issue and has dealt with them in the past, and as such will help reveal (for my future book?) why this City is the worst in the nation at housing its people.

Interestingly, ordinary citizens seem much more concerned about non-owner-occupied STRs (which they also call party houses or neighborhood motels) than housing advocates and policy wonks do. People have brought up the issue spontaneously in numerous meetings and other gatherings I have attended.

With the notable exception of Ward 8 candidate Ryan Moore and Councilor Betty Taylor (the NIMBYest of the NIMBY Councilors; in this case concerned about neighborhood disruption, not about preserving rental housing stock), so far Councilors, Council candidates, and far too many local housing advocates:

  • Say it is trivial, not a problem, or not happening here.
  • Seem unaware that cities across America face the same problem.
  • When made aware that other cities have had the same problem and have crafted a response, say that Eugene is unique, so there isnt a problem here, and one wont develop.
  • Do not reach out to, or know, UO experts (in this case, Dr. Rebecca Lewis, whose student won a statewide award in 2017 for her study of Airbnb in 237 small Oregon cities — indicating this was already a recognized issue for study three years ago!) — or search for other studies/knowledgeable articles on the problem.
  • Do not reach out to other affected cities, especially those with comprehensive and well-developed responses like Los Angeles, to learn from their experience and perhaps emulate their policies. (I know that City staff did do this, in drafting its very responsible ordinance. But everyone else seems blissfully unaware.)

The above probably applies to every housing issue here — which is why this blog has veered from its original intent, to be a chronicle of my personal experience living in microhousing, toward being more broadly a tool for increasing public awareness of microdwelling options and housing policy concerning them. So be it!

Eugene City Council Candidates Housing Questionnaire

As we are all short on time, I feel these three questions will tell me all I need to know about whether candidates would be housing champions on the City Council, which is what Eugene urgently needs to reverse the decades-long policies and attitudes that have combined to make the City the worst in the entire nation at its basic civic responsibility, housing its residents.

We urgently need City leaders who have the mettle to enact policies that are in the best interests of the community as a whole, not a vocal few, and who will start prioritizing the needs of those who have been underserved for decades — the citys renters (51% of the population), most of whom are of modest means (the median renter-household income is $26,000).

1. What is your plan to meet the Citys deficit of 13,500 units of housing affordable to the bottom third of earners? A chart on the Citys own website (bit.ly/EugeneHousing) shows we have needed this since at least 2016. Charts/graphs/other visual communication techniques are fine/encouraged.

2. Have you looked for a place to live in Eugene, as a lower-income renter, within the last five years? If not, have you talked with at least 10 people who have, and what did you learn?

3. What changes does Eugene need to make in its housing and/or land-use policy to meet its Climate Action Plan goals?

Bonus question, for extra credit (the one I am too-often asked by longtime homeowners, five years into a housing crisis in their city):
Why are there so many homeless people in Eugene?

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A separate questionnaire about City policies on homelessness would be eminently possible, but that is not my area of expertise. I hope folks doing that work will circulate a similar questionnaire and share the results widely. I would suggest that Question #2 on that one should be <Have you been homeless in Eugene in the past five years? If not, have you talked to at least 10 people who are, and what did you learn?>

Most of the people unhoused in Eugene today are not mentally ill or drug-addicted (yet). They are modest earners or people on fixed incomes with little savings (deemed ALICE by researchers). Researchers agree that the #1 cause of homelessness in America today is the high cost of housing. National research shows that a $100 increase in rent is associated with a 6% to 32% increase in homelessness.

I believe the best way to <help the homeless> is to return to what Eugeneans used to be allowed to do — create, preserve, and build low-cost housing in every neighborhood. So that is what this questionnaire, and my work, is about.

Boilerplate response to ill-informed anti-homeless comments on social media

Unfortunately, the first in a series.

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.

For those interested in basic facts, here is the annual Point-in-Time Count, in a one-page version: https://www.lanecounty.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3585797/File/HSD/Highlights%202019%20Count.jpg

And here is the Eugene Housing Literacy Test: bit.ly/housing-test

It is essential for people like you to understand the high cost of housing in Eugene today. 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.

Employed people are sleeping in cars because it isnt easy 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. 

Many groups 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. Most Eugene neighborhoods have been fighting for years/decades to keep new housing out. This should not be allowed to continue. The consequences of this selfish, classist, misguided prejudice against renters 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 United Ways excellent ALICE report: http://bit.ly/alice-report . Most Americans are one medical emergency or other catastrophe away from being homeless.

Eugeneans need to stop demonizing the unhoused as some kind of strange other breed of people, because they are us, just without the social safety net we are privileged to enjoy.

Beyond that, a shocking number of them are elders or children. Eight percent of the children in the Bethel School District are homeless, and 35 percent of those staying at the Eugene Mission are age 50 or older.

We also recommend taking the free public tours offered by Community Supported Shelters, St. Vincent de Paul, Opportunity Village Eugene, and the Eugene Mission to get an accurate picture of homelessness in Eugene today.

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 on the Invisible People channel on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh4pyZUB0mNzieaKv831flA), 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.

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