A decision on the future of Eugene’s Multiple-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) program has been delayed by the Eugene City Council until Jan. 26, since Councilor Claire Syrett could not make the Dec. 8 meeting. MUPTE has come under heavy criticism by citizens and some council members for giving big tax breaks to out-of-state developers for housing projects that might have been built even without the subsidies. The latest council action regarding MUPTE will focus on creating a review process.
The new Capstone housing project downtown, which got a 10-year property tax break through MUPTE, has been described as an eyesore and an example of poor city planning. The housing is built right up against the sidewalk, and the huge project contains no greenspace or other public amenities. Capstone is also the subject of lawsuits and complaints about labor practices and shoddy work in its construction, including allegations of unsanitary, unsafe working conditions, ambulances carrying away injured workers and sub-contract laborers being paid in cash.
Councilors Betty Taylor and George Brown have voiced concerns that MUPTE is not a useful planning tool as it stands, and Taylor thinks it should end outright. The program diverts millions of dollars of tax revenues from the city, county and schools, with the promise of increased future taxes when the exemptions end. Taylor says she is “totally opposed to MUPTE, and I don’t think a committee would help.”
Mayor Kitty Piercy supports MUPTE and says she thinks the council will “listen to the requests of the Eugene Neighborhood Leaders Council” and the MUPTE Advisory Group (MAG) “and use those recommendations to form the criteria of the MUPTE to better ensure it is a focused, fair and accountable tool that the city can use judiciously for needed future multi-unit housing that would otherwise not be doable.”
The ad-hoc MAG is recommending a review process that would provide standards for future applications, and a system for evaluating projects after they are built. MAG was formed in response to concerns from local environmental groups and complaints from workers at Capstone and other MUPTE projects.
“We are not interested in placing a moratorium on MUPTE,” says Philip Carrasco of Grupo Latino de Acción Directa. “It is a valuable tool to promote the city of Eugene’s values and goals, like preventing sprawl … MUPTE just needs transparency and increased public participation.”
If a MUPTE review panel is created as expected next year, one big issue would be who gets appointed. “The membership of the committee would undoubtedly be predominately people friendly to developers,” Taylor says. “Also, some who would be flattered to be in association with wealthy people.” Taylor is also concerned about what power the panel would have relative to the council.
Carrasco, who is a member of MAG, says he wants the review panel to include a representative from labor, the Human Rights Commission, a graduate student from the UO’s Department of Planning, Public Police and Management, a public health person and a city councilor.