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Monthly MicroDwellers social hour: meet others interested in small affordable housing

For our March social hour, we will be combining with a similar event Jan Spencer has organized around what he calls One-Earth Living.

Wed., March 115:30-8:30pm, come anytime
Central Presbyterian Church ; 555 E. 15th
The event will include a presentation by Jan and small-group conversation circles on microdwelling and housing co-ops, car-free living, sustainability, skills sharing/cooperative economy, and other topics that will likely be of interest.

Jan is a suburban permaculturist and was a driving force behind the Community Resilience Festival in River Road last summer. Nice RG article on him and his River Road homestead here.

A note on timing:
Feel free to join our social hour in progress if you are not able to arrive by 5:30.
Public transit options: #28 and others
LTD Trip Planner: http://www.ltd.org

APRIL – We will be at Tsunami Books on Wed. April 8, 5:30-7:30pm. Come early to browse books! Bringing a discreet food item to consume is OK. Tsunami provides free tea.
MAY – We may be at a welcoming area church with a commitment to housing, probably back to First Tuesday, but we will see if people prefer a Wednesday. Check this post or our Meetup group later 🙂

Announcements/quick updates at our March social hour:
* Linda K/Sherri: March 12 is the 350 Eugene City Council Candidates Forum on climate (and housing) – 7-8:30pm at Unitarian Church, 1685 W. 13th
* Dylan – Backyard Barnraising update (if any)
* Fred – may be joining the board of Community Supported Shelters!
* Sherri or Marissa if in town – Home Share Oregon update + please sign up for e-newsletter on website to be notified of progress and launch

Events coming up:
Nearly all our events are free — just join the Meetup group and RSVP. We are also on Facebook (where we share ideas) and Instagram (where we share photos of where we have been), both @microdwellers.

POSSIBLE featured guests in April (speaking for 5 minutes each on a housing-related project they are involved with) include:

  • (Amanda needs 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 perhaps other initiatives they are pursuing
  • 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 in Springfield
  • Greywater Action co-founder Laura Allen of Eugene, on greywater

Other Very Interesting People (VIPs) who may speak at future social hours:

  • 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 Eugene gent who is working with the City on a proposal for a dwelling, two-story greenhouse, mother-in-law quarters / short-term rental, RV hookup [for a tiny house], ADU, and large home office space on one property.
  • 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.
  • Sherri Schultz on Home Share Oregon, a statewide program preparing to launch this spring, which will match homeowners with spare rooms (there are an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 spare bedrooms in Eugene) and renters who need affordable housing. To stay apprised of progress and be notified when it launches, sign up for the newsletter via the website, homeshareoregon.org.
  • 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.

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 devoting more space here to the need to regulate entire-house short-term rentals

Entire-house 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 entire-house 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?

======

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

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 met a lovely young woman at a meeting last week who recently moved to Eugene and is sleeping in her car while looking for a job. I know employed people who are sleeping in cars in our neighborhood 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. 

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.

Join 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. 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.

We 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 thirty-five percent of those staying at the Eugene Mission are 50 or older.

I 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.

http://communitysupportedshelters.org
https://www.squareonevillages.org/tours
https://eugenemission.org/tour-sign-up/

Our mayor and City Councilors should 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.

Test Your Eugene Housing Literacy!

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.

  1. What percentage of Eugeneans are renters? (Nationwide: 36%.)
    51%.
  2. 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.
  3. What is the monthly income of the median Eugene renter household?
    Around $2,170, or $26,000/year.
  4. What percentage of Eugene renter households are cost-burdened (pay more than 30% of their income for rent)?
    58%.
    Nationwide, it is 48%.
  5. What is the rental vacancy rate in Eugene? (Nationwide: 7%.)
    2.48%.
  6. How many applications did Emerald Village Eugene receive for a single vacancy in October 2019?
    85. The new resident was chosen by lottery and then vetted.
  7. How many backyard cottages (ADUs) have been built in Eugene since 2014, when the City Council imposed a host of restrictions on them?
    Only about two per year from 2015 through 2017.

    ADUs are one of many ways to create more housing with no public subsidy. Portland has seen a gradual rise over the past decade, from 60 in 2010 to 600 per year today. When LA removed its barriers, permits for ADU construction soared, from 257 in 2016 to 3,818 in 2017. Because of their small size, ADUs can cut lifetime carbon emissions by up to 40% compared with a medium-sized single-family home.
  8. How many unrelated people can legally share a 10-bedroom house in a residential neighborhood 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.
  9. 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 shall be allowed in residential neighborhoods. (Note: Larger forms, such as apartment or condo buildings, are not included in this law.)
  10. Why doesnt Eugene have a home-sharing program that matches homeowners with people needing an affordable place to live?
    Trick question: We are currently helping Home Share Oregon prepare to launch statewide, including in Lane County! Sign up for the e-newsletter on the website to stay apprised of its progress.

Want to learn more and join other Eugeneans working for housing solutions? For starters, we recommend:

  • Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers, a Meetup group and civic network for those interested in small affordable housing
  • 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
  • Home Share Oregon, a statewide program connecting homeowners with compatible renters, preparing to launch this spring
  • Springfield Eugene Tenant Association, which operates a tenant hotline
  • WECAN Eugene, which advocates for ADUs and walkable neighborhoods
  • YIMBYES (Yes In My Back Yard Eugene/Springfield, which produces a podcast on housing topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Result:

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

Snapshots of Eugene #1: Poverty at Christmastime (a continuing series)

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.

Eugene has the most unhoused people per capita in the nation. Consultants hired by the county concluded that homelessness is exacerbated here because we have a comparatively poorer, older, and more disabled populace and an inadequate stock of rental housing, either market-rate or publicly subsidized. Many families are having a hard time making ends meet, as their wages can’t keep up with increasing housing costs.

In the most recent Point-in-Time Survey [January 2019], only a quarter reported substance use, and a third reported mental illness.

Join MicroDwellers on our tour of the Eugene Mission on Sat., Jan. 18, 10am-noon, to learn more about this complex issue.

Proposal: The NOAH Alliance

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 … ?

ETA: There is a statewide CDFI called NOAH (Network for Oregon Affordable Housing), a Neighborhood of Affordable Housing in East Boston, and a NOAH Impact Fund (among others), so presumably no one has a lock on putting NOAH in the name of their organization.

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