On Wednesday, Eugene City Council returned to their Housing Tools and Strategies discussion. The goal of this project was to identify methodologies and actions that would move the needle on housing affordability, availability, and diversity in Eugene.
Last night, when given the option to take action to address our housing crisis, Eugene City Council chose to do... nothing.
For over a year, WE CAN has been talking primarily about code changes to make Accessory Dwelling Units easier in Eugene. But we also know that ADUs alone are not going to solve our housing crisis or move Eugene towards more walkable neighborhoods—they are tiny piece of the solution, but on their own they will not have a major impact. So why the focus on ADUs?
For decades, the vast majority of updates to Eugene’s zoning code have made housing harder to build and made the processes more complex and difficult to navigate. While our high-level plans and statements have repeatedly said that rather than expand into the farm and forest land surrounding the City we wished to find ways to provide the housing we need with the land we already have, as we’ve made the decisions to implement that we have in practice downzoned, limited housing, and added hoops and barriers to the point of absurdity.
We are not going to achieve our goals of providing housing that is affordable to all income levels while also protecting our natural resources, creating more efficient transportation options and planning for climate change if we continue to only pass regulations that just serve to protect existing single-family homeowners from the impacts of neighborhood evolution. The values expressed in Envision Eugene can sometimes be in conflict, and require tradeoffs. But we have for decades privileged one perspective and one set of interests over all the others.
If we are going to solve our housing crisis and achieve our goals as a City, we need to shift direction. And we need to see City Council and City Staff shift direction—no more last minute votes to add barriers and confusion and delays that are written by activists and past by Council with no opportunity for comment and limited evaluation of the impacts.
Accessory Dwelling Units are the smallest, simplest modification that we can make to start moving in the right direction on housing in Eugene.
Of all the types of new housing we can add, ADUs are the least expensive, most affordable construction type that can be done without subsidizes. While all new construction is going to be more expensive than we wish it would be, if nothing else ADUs don’t require the purchase of additional land, which can add significantly the cost of creating housing.
Of all ways we can fit additional homes into our community, ADUs have the least impact on neighbors. ADUs are small, and frequently come in the form of a cute cottage or the conversion of an existing building or portion of a building, creating no visual impact. Given that the majority of homeowners are unlikely to build ADUs, the few additional new neighbors living in ADUs probably aren’t even going to be noticed as they use our sidewalks, streets, and parks.
Every journey starts with a single step. Eugene has been walking backwards. By asking, “Can we remove zoning barriers to ADUs in Eugene?” we are also asking “Is Eugene willing to do more than talk about achieving a vision of affordable, available, and diverse housing?” So far, the answer has been, “No.” But once we take that first step, it makes it a little easier to take another, and another. And we’ve got miles to walk.
After Eugene City Council declined to address the barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units in Eugene when they passed Ordinance 20594 on June 11th, 2018, WE CAN joined with 1000 Friends of Oregon, AARP Oregon, the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, The Homebuilders Association of Lane County, and Housing Land Advocates to appeal the City’s action (or rather lack thereof) to the State Land Use Board of Appeals. A decision is expected in late November.
The City promised a “two-phase” process to address ADUs in Eugene when the code amendment process for Ordinance 20594 was initiated on January 22nd, 2018 with the second phase intended to address the barriers to ADUs in Eugene. The Eugene Planning Commission recommended that Council immediately initiate the second phase of this process on March 26th, 2018.
It has been almost a year. As of today, the Phase II process has not been initiated by City Council, and there is no clear information available on a timeline or methodology for resolving this issue. The City has provided no clear indication of when or if Phase II is actually going to happen-- meaning no clear information about when we are actually going to make ADUs easier.
City Council is set to discuss Housing Tools and Strategies at their December 10th 5:30 work session. Let them know what you think!
On Monday, City Council had their latest test as to if they were going take the housing crisis in Eugene seriously, or if they were going to continue to follow the patterns that got us here in the first place. Their answer-- No, we aren't going to take the housing crisis seriously.
On May 23rd, Council once again pushed back the decision on if Eugene is going to comply with State Law allowing each single-family home owner who wants to build a secondary dwelling unit to do so (SB 1051.) Not only did they fail to modify the proposal from staff to remove barriers to Secondary Dwellings Units, they actually voted amend the ordinance to prohibit Secondary Dwelling Units from the Jefferson Westside and Chambers Special Area Zones, two medium-density areas. It is on the agenda for further discussion on June 11th.
The public record is still open! If you weren't able to make the hearing, you can still send written comments to the city by emailing Alissa.H.Hansen@ci.eugene.or.us Council voted to extend the record by two weeks, so comments are being accepted until April 30th!
Secondary Dwelling Compliance Goes to Council
What: Public Hearing Regarding SB 1051/SDU compliance in Eugene
When: April 16th, 7:30 (arrive early to sign up to comment)
Where: Harris Hall, 125 E 8th Ave, Eugene
At their meeting today, the Eugene Planning Commission has forwarded their recommendations to City Council about what changes Eugene needs to make to their code in order to be in compliance with State SB 1051, which says that cities like Eugene shall allow “at least one accessory dwelling unit for each detached single family home.” Unfortunately, the recommendation Council will be considering meets neither the spirit nor the letter of the requirement. Let Council know what you think! Be heard at the public hearing on April 16th.
(Not able to make it? Send a comment to Alissa.H.Hansen@ci.eugene.or.us by April 9th to have them included in the packet, and watch the hearing on the web.
The recommendation before Council suggests some needed changes to our code to comply with SB 1051, such as ensuring that zones which currently allow single family dwellings but don’t allow secondary dwellings permit them, and brings our definition of SDUs into closer alignment with state language. It also recommends closing a loop-hole in the code that prevented places of worship from developing affordable homes on their property. However, it does not address the major elements of Eugene’s code that prevent homeowners from creating Secondary Dwelling Units and puts us out of compliance with state law, instead punting all difficult discussions to an unscheduled, unfunded “Phase 2” process.
SB 1051 says that secondary dwellings can be subject to “reasonable regulations related to siting and design.” This includes things like height limits and setback requirements—it is about the structure and placement of the building on the lot. As reasonable people can disagree about if 18 feet or 24 feet or 10 feet is a reasonable height for a SDU, Council reasonably suggested a “Phase 2” to discuss those types of siting and design questions. However, it appears that instead they are trying push off all questions related to SDUs to a later date, regardless of siting or design.
Of note, unless Council acts, two roadblocks which are clearly not regulations related to siting or design will remain in the code—Owner-Occupancy Requirements and Lot Size Minimums. Lot Size Minimums prohibit nearly 5,000 homeowners from being able to construct a SDU and are specifically recommended against by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development’s guidelines on implementing SB 1051. Owner-Occupancy Requirements do not regulate the building—they regulate who can live there.
Even if Council initiated a Phase 2 immediately, any outcomes of that process would not be complete by July 1st, 2018 in order to be in compliance with SB 1051. That is why Council needs to act now to remove non-compliant regulations on SDU from Eugene’s code. Eugene is facing a major housing shortage, resulting in rising rents and home prices. The longer we delay in addressing the roadblocks to creating the housing we need to meet this crisis, the worse it is going to get.
City Council will be holding a public hearing on April 16 at 7:30 at Harris Hall, and will be holding a work session with potential action on May 14th.
Learn more about SB 1051 and the areas where Eugene puts in place roadblocks to Secondary Dwellings.