Fitting In

[Fitting In]

EUGENE, OREGON - It's easy to fall in love with Eugene, a city of just over 160,000 near where the McKenzie meets the Willamette at the southern end of one of a rich valley where anyone with a green thumb would love to have a garden. Home to the University of Oregon - 20,569 undergraduate and 3,612 graduate students strong - Eugene's long been a center for cutting-edge culture and fully-engaged politics. And, if you weary of that, Pacific beaches are just 60 miles to the west, the Cascades 60 to the east.

Paradise, right? Sure. But even paradise has issues. With the University and four other colleges, of course, Eugene's a great place to go to school. But that puts a lot of pressure on folks who don't. Students, noted HUD economists in 2015, "significantly affect" the Eugene "metropolitan area's rental market." To say the least. Envision Eugene found that 64 percent of students lived within a mile of campus with the remaining third live in the larger community, competing with non-student households for available, affordable units. With a citywide rental vacancy of just 2.9 percent in August, 2015, the competition's fierce.

Which probably explains why families with incomes of 50 percent or less of area median camped-out on Chad Avenue in Eugene the evening of July 5, 2015. They were hoping to get lucky, to be first in line to apply for one of the 53 apartments at Bascom Village, an affordable housing complex built and operated by St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County. "This was actually kind of a surprise for us," Nora Cronin of St. Vincent de Paul told KLCC radio station. "This is the first time that we opened a waiting list that we had people camped out for it. We've been seeing larger and larger demands for our units."

It's likely not the last time families will camp-out. In its 2015 Consolidated Plan, the City reported that the Housing and Community Services Agency of Lane County - or HACSA, the area's housing authority - provides assisted housing, most of it subsidized by HUD, to 4,200 families. But, it added, there are more than 2,000 families other families on the Authority's waiting list. Those seeking a two-bedroom apartment, it said, will wait up to three years. Those seeking a one-bedroom will wait five.

Competing for non-subsidized apartments isn't any easier. The National Low Income Housing, Coalition says the average rent for a three-bedroom unit in Eugene is $1,199 a month. To afford that a mom and a dad earning the minimum wage each have to work a full-time job and one of the two also needs a half-time job, jut to put a roof over their heads. Food, clothing, transportation, and utilities would be extra.

To its credit, the City is aggressive in trying to meet the demand for affordable housing. A few weeks before St. Vincent de Paul celebrated its grand opening, HACSA broke ground for phase II of Bascom Village to provide 48 more affordable units. The City purchased the Bascom Village parcel with HUD Community Development Block Grant funds with the subsequent developments financed, in part, with HUD HOME Investment Partnership funds from the City. All told, over the years its CDBG-funded Land Acquisition for Affordable Housing program has added some 880 affordable housing units to the city's stock. And it's just announced plans to acquire another parcel for another 50 units over the next 5 years.

The good news? The City always is looking for new resources, new ways to expand the affordable stock. In her 2015 State of the City Address, Mayor Kitty Piercy reflected on the "massive amount" of student housing in Eugene. "Many would say," she observed, that "we have an overbuild" which should be viewed as "an opportunity to repurpose some of our older housing stock for affordable units we greatly need."

Even better news? The community context in which these efforts are being made. A lot of cities bigger and smaller than Eugene face affordable housing crises. Many haven't the will or the way to address the demand. Affordable housing developments are proposed and almost instantly protest erupts, loud enough to stall, to scale-back or even to altogether stop supply from meeting demand.

Not Eugene. Sure, observes The Register Guard, there were objections "when a coalition of public and private agencies announced their plans for Bascom Village." But "by the time the first phase of the project celebrated its grand opening," it continued, "neighbors' fears had subsided. Bascom Village is an example of how an affordable housing development can be compatible with its surroundings, benefiting the residents, neighbors and the community at large," of how, in Eugene, well-built and well-designed "affordable housing can fit."

Another reason, clearly, to fall in love with Eugene.


Content Archived: January 25, 2017