Eliza Kashinsky says she is good at solving complex problems.
In an attempt solve one, Kashinsky is running for the first time for a seat on the City Council, because she says she wants to help Eugene implement solutions for housing, accountability and homelessness. She says she is taking on incumbent Emily Semple in Ward 1 because she believes the council has not taken enough action.
“I’ve felt more and more like Eugene is getting stuck in a lot of ways,” Kashinsky says. “But when it comes time to implement solutions, we are going around and around. If I can help the city in some way, I want to do so.”
She has not run for political office before and lacks elected experience, but Kashinsky says she’s spent many years working for nonprofits. She says that experience would lend itself to the position, which represents a complicated downtown ward.
A Virginia native, she studied political science and psychology at State University of New York in Albany. She spent time working in various leadership roles at Washington, D.C., nonprofits. After a while, Kashinsky and her husband wanted a change of pace.
“We found Eugene and fell in love with Eugene,” she says. As soon as they moved, Kashinsky says they started attending public meetings and eventually joined committees.
Kashinsky has been on Eugene’s budget committee. She also co-founded the Walkable Eugene Citizen Advisory Network (WE CAN), an ad hoc group that supports the creation of more walkable neighborhoods. She currently works as a human resources manager at South Lane Mental Health in Cottage Grove.
Despite her lack of political experience, one of the main focuses of Kashinsky’s campaign addresses a hot political topic: housing. Even without solid ideas on how to create more housing, Kashinsky sees a critical need for more housing in Eugene, especially for those in the community that are unhoused.
“That is the most consistent thing I’ve heard. I feel like the city’s inaction on those issues is really hurting the people in our ward,” she says.
Looking at Oregon HB 2001, which allows for duplexes to be built in single-family zones and will be implemented statewide in 2021, Kashinsky says the city should be working hard to create its own language for it, rather than using the default state code.
“I read zoning code because it relaxes me,” she says. “So I’ve looked at our code. Whatever they write is not going to drop easily into our code,” she says.
She adds the city should be encouraging more homes that meet a diversity of income levels, such as duplexes, which are less expensive than single-family homes. At the end of the day, Kashinsky says, people need to be open-minded about solutions.
“When you look at the changes that need to be made to the code, they are not actually substantial.”
Kashinsky describes her own area of living, the Jefferson West Side neighborhood, and says it historically has allowed more housing types than other areas. “This creates neighborhoods like mine. And I like my neighborhood.”
If elected, Kashinsky also wants to address accountability with the City Council. She says the council spends too much time during meetings delving into the roots of an issue, and instead should do more research before its meetings.
“You end up not being able to come to a decision because you are spending too much time talking about what needs to be done,” she says. “I would be really focused with doing my homework before I get there so I’m not having to ask all those questions at the table and hold things up.”
She adds that the council should also work on making sure all voices in the community are heard. Kashinsky says, as a frequent commenter at public forums, she sees many of the same people speaking that may not always be the voice of the whole community.
“I think they should be getting a better sense of what they want,” she says. “I think there is a piece of sort of making sure there is follow up.”
She also sees this with climate change and the city’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, which she is on a committee for. Kashinsky feels the newer draft lacks new ideas, and that the city needs to be taking action now, whether it’s installing new electric car charging stations or incentivizing a switch to cleaner energy.
Homelessness, Kashinsky says, encapsulates all other issues because there are so many aspects to it, including housing. She doesn’t offer specific ideas, but says that there are people who also need more than just housing. They need extra support.
Another facet of homelessness Kashinsky wants to address is public safety, which she says gets frequently mislabeled as homelessness.
“Any crimes we are concerned about are not committed by people who are homeless. We need to separate the idea that we have a crime problem because we have a homeless problem,” Kashinsky says.
She adds that lawlessness and homelessness are their own issues, and that un-housed individuals are often victims of crimes.
Kashinsky has been in Eugene for seven years. She says she has stayed because of the sense of community she has felt here, and she hopes she can help others feel the same.
“One of the things I see about Eugene is how amazing the community is here,” she says. “We have people here who are passionate, and who are creative.”