Housing is a Defense Against Climate Change

Low-income and historically marginalized communities bear the brunt of climate impacts

By Ryan Moore and Dylan Plummer

Low-income and historically marginalized communities bear the brunt of climate impacts

As temperatures regularly soared above 100 degrees this past summer, renters across Eugene struggled to stay cool in their homes. Without air conditioning in much of the city’s building stock, the heat made it virtually impossible for many of us to do anything but sit in front of a fan. 

The thousands of unhoused community members in Eugene had it even worse. Last summer’s heatwave wasn’t just an inconvenience, it was a matter of life or death. As is the case with all climate impacts, low-income and historically marginalized communities bore the brunt of the heat dome that loomed over the Pacific Northwest, while those with access to greater resources escaped relatively unharmed, if mildly inconvenienced. 

As climate disasters become more frequent, good housing policy is our first line of defense against the cataclysms of a warming world. Providing and maintaining access to housing for all Oregonians so that they can escape noxious wildfire smoke, extreme heat and other environmental hazards must be a core plank of our efforts to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis, and to adapt to those that are already upon us. 

Yet, in Eugene, our unhoused population is growing precipitously as tenants face no-cause evictions, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data published by the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association shows that no-cause evictions are impacting Eugene renters from all areas of the city, and disproportionately affecting seniors, families with children, people with disabilities and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). 

Because of the city’s extremely low rental vacancy rates, combined with significant move-in costs, no-cause evictions are likely a leading driver of houselessness in the city. Fifty-three percent of Eugene’s population are renters and, of those, 35 percent identify as severely rent burdened and pay more than 50 percent of their total income on rent alone. When struck by one of these evictions through no fault of their own, a tenant has only a short time to find and move into new housing. This is just not realistically possible for many renters and often the only alternative is houselessness.

While there is not one easy answer to address the many issues driving houselessness, there are clear solutions to protect our community from the harsh impacts of no-cause evictions. 

A coalition of organizations has come together this fall to support a policy called Displacement Prevention Assistance (DPA), which would require landlords who choose to carry out a no-cause eviction to pay some of the relocation costs for the tenant they displace. This push comes as the Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled that a similar renter relocation policy in Portland was constitutional. 

As organizers in Eugene, we know we cannot have climate justice without housing justice or vice versa. We must expand our understanding of these issues to ensure that when we discuss climate action, we are not just talking about greenhouse gas emissions. Good climate policy must include critical measures to provide safe and affordable housing, and protect tenants from the rising threat of displacement. 

We are excited to see the city of Eugene getting behind common-sense policies to protect tenants’ rights, forge a just transition off of fossil fuels and ensure housing for the most vulnerable in our communities. Last month, our City Council took concrete steps on all of these topics by including the DPA concept in a package of renter protections they are considering, and passing motions to explore policies to transition buildings off of fossil fuels. 

We applaud the City Council for its efforts, and encourage it to stay on track and pass DPA along with other much needed housing and climate policy in the coming year.

Ryan Moore is a local renter advocate and a co-founder of the Springfield Eugene Tenant Association.

Dylan Plummer is a local renter and a co-founder of the Breach Collective, an organization fighting for a just transition off fossil fuels.