By David Monk and Ian Winbrock
Now that Lane County has begun its Phase 1 reopening under Gov. Kate Brown’s new “Building a Safe and Strong Oregon” framework, our city and county are focusing on economic recovery.
There’s no doubt that our public health response to COVID-19 was critical in flattening the curve. Social distancing, stay at home orders and public face coverings ensured that our hospitals and health care workers were able to care for those suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.
Now that we are transitioning from emergency response to recovery, it’s time to look towards another type of civic institution to mobilize economic resilience and revitalization: neighborhood associations.
In 2019 alone, neighborhood association volunteers gave 20,117 hours of their time, valued at $487,026 (based on a $24.21/hour rate used in the city of Eugene’s Community and Neighborhood Matching Grant Program). Neighborhood associations, working with the city and with local businesses and nonprofits, help mobilize our community into action, especially when it is most needed.
Eugene’s neighborhood associations (NHAs), no matter what size, have been responding to the health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19 since early March in partnership with the city of Eugene, Lane County and our community nonprofit partners.
The Jefferson Westside Neighbors donated 200 bottles of homemade hand sanitizer to neighborhood-level social service and affordable housing providers. The Laurel Hill Valley Citizens (Eugene’s smallest NHA, representing less than 2,000 residents) has organized free child care for neighbors having to work while kids are out of school, designing a database of neighbors who may be more vulnerable to the effects of this outbreak than others and a corresponding database of volunteers who are able to provide aid. Volunteers in Eugene’s largest NHA, Active Bethel Citizens, which represents more than 20,000 Eugene residents, wrote uplifting messages on sidewalks across their neighborhood to ease social isolation by those sheltering in place.
NHAs were the only organizations in the city to mail residents with COVID-19 health guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Oregon Health Authority as well as local information on how to access food and job assistance. This proved critical to some of our most vulnerable neighbors who are immunocompromised, without adequate income or reliable access to the internet.
As co-chairs of the Neighborhood Leaders Council, a civic organization comprising each of Eugene’s 23 recognized neighborhood associations, we’ve been coordinating our COVID-19 response in order to maximize the collective impact. Four of south Eugene’s NHAs (representing more than 28,000 residents in Southeast, Friendly Area, SouthWest Hills and Amazon) have banded together to create the South Eugene Inter-Neighborhood Coalition, connecting those in need with resources and volunteer assistance.
Despite the financial uncertainties for the coming fiscal year, City Manager Pro-Tem Sarah Medary has proposed a budget to the Eugene City Council that maintains support for NHAs at current funding levels. We think this demonstrates her appreciation for the traditional role NHAs play in our community and recognition that NHAs can be instrumental when called upon. During the pandemic NHAs have stepped up to provide immediate assistance to neighbors in need. Until a vaccine is approved and locally distributed NHAs will maintain their readiness.
This is why we’re asking the city of Eugene to take the following actions:
• Develop a permanent fund to assist NHAs in disaster response and recovery.
• Approve the $520,000 in COVID-19 recovery funds with NHAs eligible for this funding.
• Condition 50 percent of Community and Neighborhood Matching Grants, a city of Eugene approved revenue source, for NHA COVID-19 mitigation and recovery efforts.
The next few years are likely to be difficult for most of us. Neighborhood associations have contributed to our community’s well being in good times and in bad. We’ve been active since the pandemic began, and we’re going to contribute to our recovery.
Ultimately, we’re asking the city of Eugene to empower NHAs to do what we do best: organize and respond to neighborhood needs.
David Monk and Ian Winbrock are the co-chairs of the Neighborhood Leaders Council