Web Letters in Response to ‘Housing the Rich’

EW readers respond to Paul Conte's Viewpoint on HB 2001

Yes, Eugene does have a rental affordable housing crisis. If you pay more than 30 percent of your monthly income for rent you are housing-cost burdened — if you can even find a place to live in the first place. Look at working-class incomes and current rents, and do the math.

Eugene, like just about every other city in the U.S., has exclusionary zoning, meaning you can’t build apartments in most of the city. It’s basically a class war between middle-class homeowners, who want to keep apartments out of their neighborhoods, and working-class renters, who are half of Eugene residents.

The law of supply and demand has not been repealed. A drastic shortage of apartments has allowed greedy landlords to jack up rents as much as the traffic will bear. The result is that a lot of working-class people can no longer afford to live in Eugene.

Oregon’s HB 2001 requires Eugene to upzone single family home areas by June 30, 2022. We don’t have a choice. People who don’t accept this are wasting our time.

EW could perform a much needed service by actually covering the issue, instead of printing NIMBY crap from the likes of Paul Conte. To quote the fictional New England police chief Jesse Stone, “Information is out there, all you have to do is let it in.”

Lynn Porter


You’re kidding, right? The city of Eugene’s answer to housing affordability and racial diversity in housing is to let developers do as they wish in a diverse, healthy residential neighborhood?

Haven’t we seen this act before? I suppose the answer for global climate change is more free-market industrial policy!

Matt Purvis


Re “Housing the Rich,” (EW, 8/12): Willful ignorance on the part of Eugene planners and planning commission it certainly is. Claiming this upzoning would improve housing affordability is ludicrous. Developers aren’t going to build low income housing without a subsidy. They’re going to build homes that only the middle class or higher can afford. That’s where the money is. That’s what developers do, build to make money. They’re not in business to help the needy. We’ve heard “trickle down” before, and it doesn’t work. Trickle down new housing is not going to reduce housing costs for low income buyers.

These proposed changes by the Eugene planners and planning commission will only benefit developers and help further erode affordable neighborhoods.

Steve Pringle


In reaction to the “Housing For the Rich” Viewpoint by Paul Conte in the Aug. 12 edition of Eugene Weekly, I would like to ask Eugene planners and planning commissioners whether they are engaged with Eugene’s citizens regarding their official duties, and whether Eugene’s citizens feel engaged with them.

“Engagement” implies a two-way interaction among parties who express themselves and attempt to understand one another’s opinions, and the data, facts and reasoning behind them. This process does not generally lead to a single shared position, since there can never be universal consensus in a diverse community. The point of engagement, then, cannot be to achieve universal consensus on issues, but to satisfy community members that they have truly been heard and that they have truly heard the opinions and reasoning of others.
Eugene’s citizens deserve and expect no less than engagement by city employees regarding decisions that affect their lives in important ways. Eugene’s planners and commissioners must engage with us regarding the zoning decisions currently being considered.

Charles Snyder


The benefits of trees to the landscape of our city are numerous: cleaner air, lower city temperatures, less energy used to cool our homes, wildlife habitat and beauty. However, the city staff is considering a code change that would eliminate current tree protections on residential lots. This would allow a residence to consume up to 70 percent of a lot (up from 50 percent).

This is one of many changes being proposed in the name of “affordable housing.” Imagine another summer like the one we’ve experienced this year, but add another 2 to 11 degrees, the reported difference by the USDA in a study of the impact of the urban tree canopy. There is an abundance of evidence to support increasing and protecting the urban tree canopy.

Where is the data to support the city staff’s proposal? It does not have to be a choice: We can have intelligent, data-driven changes and affordable housing.
Chances are, these changes to the city code are news to you. Stay informed and let the city staff know you want the residents of this city to be involved. Sign up for land use updates and submit comments to the Eugene Mayor, City Council and City Manager (MayorCouncilandCityManager@Eugene-or.gov) ahead of the Sept. 15 work session.

Rachael Latimer


Contrary to Paul Conte’s assertions (“Housing the Rich,” EW 8/12), building more housing — and doing so in environmentally friendly dense communities with access to mass transit — is a necessary component to solve entrenched housing affordability challenges. Indeed, recent research from New York City, San Francisco and Tokyo all highlight the connection between density and lower rents/sales prices, and long-standing research from respected housing economists has established a clear link between restrictive zoning and affordability challenges.

But we can’t just “build, baby, build.” We also need broader support for housing vouchers (with the ability to nudge families to neighborhoods of opportunity), affordable housing tax credits and incentives to eliminate restrictive housing regulations that increase the cost of building homes for Americans — each of which appears in the president’s housing plan.

My message to my fellow Eugeneans: Welcome more neighbors to your communities by supporting reforms that promote new growth — particularly along mass transit — and fight like heck to demand that local, state and federal government provide permanent sources of funding to address the needs of low-income Americans in Lane County and across the country.

Andrew Kalloch


Allowing investors to develop high-end rentals to improve housing affordability amounts to promoting our very own local Big Lie.

It will have a negative impact on housing affordability for low income households. On top of that, keeping unsuspecting property owners in Special Area Zones unaware of what’s going on is a calculated manipulation of public process by the Planning Department.

It amounts to exploiting selective special interests’ opinions.

Erika Seiferling


I wholeheartedly agree with Paul Conte’s Viewpoint (Housing for the Rich,” EW 8/12). Gentrification displaces many households, and the latest efforts by city planning staff only worsens the problem. We need more housing affordability, not more high-rental properties in Eugene.

Duncan Rhodes


It’s been said of Americans that they will generally come up with the solution to a problem — after having tried everything else first.
I feel that way about the many games being played around the shortage of affordable housing. Paul Conte’s excellent “Housing the Rich” (EW 8/12) is a terrific attempt to cut through the gamesmanship and focus on the realities.

The real solution is in Conte’s quote from a Black advocacy group: “[F]air housing will only be fulfilled if displacement prevention and preservation/production of deeply affordable housing are uppermost priorities.” The opposite result is illustrated in Conte’s example of a new quadplex at 94 and 96 W. 15th Avenue, where the developer demolished two former lower-cost rentals, displacing the occupants, and each apartment now rents for $3,195 a month.

The shortage of affordable housing results from the maldistribution of wealth and income, the shortage of living wage jobs, the failure of governments to tax wealthy individual and business interests fairly, and other inequities currently shredding the social fabric. Resulting homelessness won’t be fixed by allowing speculators to build and sell or rent housing on lots now occupied by affordable homes, thus destroying the livability of neighborhoods.

Instead, we need to fix those inequities and use the resulting funds to build public housing — lots of it, on the model of the housing built by St. Vinnie’s and other affordable housing projects in Eugene. And meanwhile, keep the affordable housing we already have.

For more info: Housing-Facts.org.

Robert Roth


City planners are proposing extreme changes to the Eugene Code in support of HB 2001, state middle-housing legislation. The proposed changes go far beyond the intent of HB 2001 and would facilitate the construction of market rate rentals, not affordable housing. These changes will potentially alter the character of single-family neighborhoods.
HB 2001 defines middle housing as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, row houses and cottage clusters. The law requires that cities allow duplexes on all single-family lots, and the other housing types in all residential neighborhoods.

This project has been active for over a year with little public engagement. The general public has had no chance to understand these changes or provide comments.

The staff’s proposal would reduce duplex lot sizes from 8,000 square feet to as little as 1,688 square feet. Building heights would increase to allow three-story structures built next to single-family homes. Off-street parking would not be required. Middle housing would be exempt from tree preservation standards. There are many more changes that go far beyond the state requirements and have negative impacts.

HB 2001 provides the opportunity for Eugene to add housing and preserve neighborhood compatibility by simply implementing the minimum standards. There is no need to go beyond those requirements. The staff’s extreme deregulation will not incentivize housing that’s affordable to lower-income households. Instead, it will incentivize expensive, market-rate housing.

City staff and councilors should make these proposals clear to the public in open meetings with comment opportunities. Residents must get involved to maintain their neighborhood livability.

Bill Aspegren


The census report says Eugene added 20,000 folks in the last 10 years. Our southeast Eugene (where I’ve lived for over 30 years) NIMBYs would have you think half the people in Eugene support them. Survey those 20,000: Do you want two acres of trees for the southeast elite or a backup supply for clean drinking water?

The answer is not rocket science.

Don French


As we approach the possibility of schools requiring remote school again this fall, the clarion call against remote learning is sure to rear its angry head. While I don’t disagree that schools that were never well equipped to handle virtual learning have tainted the entire concept of online classrooms, I still find it an unfair correlation.

Virtual learning isn’t bad because it’s virtual. It’s often bad because the school wasn’t prepared to offer innovative, interactive online classes. This isn’t a dig on teachers who had to upend their classrooms and fully convert everything online. Instead, it’s an understanding that schools that weren’t already equipped for online learning can’t compete with schools that have it in their mission. This conversation has been focusing on the wrong things, and instead of touting either/or, why not both: blended learning.

A 2021 Forbes article highlighted that blended learning is not a new concept for many forward-thinking schools like Le Sallay International Academy and Laurel Springs High School. Blended learning utilizes both online and in-person learning, giving students the best of both worlds. For schools that have built blended learning into their mission, the often touted “horrors” of remote learning are completely irrelevant.

As technology evolves, so, too, should education. The pandemic has shown us that our traditional approach to education is in serious need of an overhaul. With so many educational options like blended learning available now, why choose schools based purely on proximity when we have the entire world in our laps?

Mira Mason-Reader


The Eugene Planning and Development Department’s proposal for residential zoning changes to comply with HB 2001 deserves vigorous public outcry. I had decided not to worry about local HB 2001 compliance. I’m no fan of top-down, blanket-style zoning, but figured middle-type residential infill with appropriately scaled affordable housing had the potential to be fine. However, the city planners’ stated premise of making changes that correct historical inequity and create affordable housing has turned out to be hypocritical.

The “public process” the city employed, while minimal and manipulated, revealed affordable housing to be people’s top priority. Yet, aside from aspirational wording, this public input went effectively unheeded. Compliance with the minimal HB 2001 requirements and using incentives, such as an overlay, set aside for affordable housing was an option; but planners chose to throw all the bargaining chips into the open (higher-cost) market.

Additionally, their plan does nothing to prevent or address the otherwise likely net loss of currently more affordable older housing stock and the associated human displacement. Meanwhile, citywide homeowners living in areas unprotected by CC&Rs would be permanently at risk of losing valued features like privacy, trees and solar access as backyards are permitted to fill with taller structures and lots divided into as many as four parcels.

This rezoning proposal’s numerous flaws are impossible to address in one letter. I implore people to inform yourselves about the details and implications and let your city councilor know what you think. There are better, greener options.

Pam Wooddell


Paul Conte’s Viewpoint (“Housing the Rich,” 8/12) is timely and spot on. I live in the Jefferson Westside neighborhood and have witnessed firsthand the complete disconnect when housing policy aspirations don’t match reality on the ground, and when older housing is replaced with high-end condos and apartments. I have also been party to sensible, community-driven solutions, not to one-size-fits-all zoning (Jefferson Westside Special Area Zone).

It is a documented fact that Eugene has a housing shortage, but what is less well known is that the vast majority of the housing shortage is in the lower income strata. So yes, the wholesale demolition of older, relatively inexpensive homes in favor of high-priced multiplexes is increasing housing stock, but only in the upper income strata. In reality, this approach is exacerbating the lower income heart of the housing shortage. Eugene’s leaders should strive to maintain the current housing stock, while finding ways to subsidize the building of meaningful numbers of work force and affordable housing.

Residential zoning should be nuanced and developed with the unique aspects of each neighborhood in mind. I have experienced the livability degradation and out-migration of long-term residents brought on by simple-minded zoning policy. Because the world is not black and white, the best solutions are found in the gray shades. Citizen involvement is key to good zoning. The proposed uniform, radical up-zoning of all Eugene neighborhoods is a bad idea. Details matter. Wake up, Eugene, before it is too late.

Tom Happy


Eugeneans, awaken! It seems to be human nature to not engage until something designed by someone else without our input is staring us in the face. “It” is Eugene building code being proposed to City Council by the Planning and Development to address HB 2001, the state’s mandate to increase different housing forms, e.g. duplex, cottage clusters, across single-family residential zones with the hope of improving housing affordability by increasing neighborhood infill.

Eugene’s planning department, without supportive data, is going well beyond that which is required by the law. We need housing, no question, but the vast majority of housing that we need is affordable housing for our lowest-income neighbors. That does not happen without economic support, so what is proposed is housing deregulation. The city claims “filtering” will open up more housing for those with the lowest incomes as we build more housing.

That is unlikely given so many of the lowest rent houses will be torn down to maximize a developer’s build potential. Where do those renters go? Another aspect of infill building is increased lot coverage, which equates to lesser green space and tree coverage, a direct hit against our commitment to climate recovery goals.

Do some research for yourself. The planning department is sharing an incomplete picture, and instead of moving with caution, they are throwing all sails (equity, climate recovery) to the wind. Approved code is difficult to change. We need to get it right the first time. Less is better!

Margie James


Recent articles highlighting the importance of Eugene’s tree canopy and the impact of heat islands or heat disparity have failed to note the absence of the Planning Department in this important conversation. One might assume that the planning staff is unaware of the discussion happening elsewhere in the city or, more likely, they’re being pushed beyond reasonable residential code changes by powerful lobbyists whose interests lie elsewhere.

For example, the planning staff and commissioners are both currently recommending that the City Council “exempt middle housing from tree preservation standards” as part of upcoming residential zones changes. (Middle housing traditionally meant a small multi-unit building but that has now shifted to multiples of single family houses on very small lots.)
At the same time, they are recommending minimum lot sizes so unrealistically small that with current property line setbacks (5 feet for interior and 10 feet front) new houses will entirely cover the remainder of the lot. There will be no practical room for trees, let alone gardens and play areas. It wouldn’t be surprising to see these setback standards decreased as well.

The planning staff’s failure to address climate concerns is also glaring elsewhere. The most current recommendations to the City Council include elimination of on-site parking requirements in all areas. This one move will block the necessary shift to electric vehicles as residents will be unable to charge their vehicles. Unfortunately, vehicle ownership will be a necessity as public transportation is very limited in all neighborhoods with the exception of a few major corridors.

Carolyn Jacobs