On Valentine’s Day, people share their feelings through chocolate, cards and roses. Springfield City Council spent the holiday discussing how to spend millions of dollars it received through the Oregon Legislature and the federal government.
At a Feb. 14 work session that was partially in-person and virtual, the council went through a 16-item list, directing staff which projects it wants more information about funding. Although some councilors were divided on some projects, there was agreement in funding a new van for CAHOOTS and exploring a downtown “Loo,” a new sprinkler system for Ebbert Methodist Church, and a new housing co-op.
The majority of the councilors were in support of paying to upgrade the Ebbert Methodist Church basement sprinkler system. The downtown church had been a longstanding Egan Warming Center until a fire inspection said it was unsafe because of the sprinkler system. The cost of upgrading it is $490,000.
Mayor Sean VanGordon said the city has been asked to fund the sprinkler system upgrade at Ebbert for a while. He said that Pastor June Fothergil, who was in the audience during the work session, said the church would continue as an Egan Warming Center after her retirement in June.
Councilor Kori Rodley said that taking care of the church that has long supported the community’s unhoused, as well as looking at funding homeless shelters. “And looking at the shelters. What can we do so that every year we’re not looking at sheltering the unhoused and how do we invest in those folks who are willing to do that work?”
Councilor Steve Moe said he supported upgrading the sprinkler system, too, saying it would make the building legal to act as an Egan warming site.
The project list also includes a downtown Loo. The Loo is a 24/7 standalone bathroom developed by Madden Fabrication in conjunction with the city of Portland. On Dec. 14, a Loo was built in downtown Eugene.
It would cost Springfield $225,000, plus ongoing maintenance.
Councilor Marilee Woodrow said she would support funding a Loo. She said there’s a portable toilet near the Emerald Art Center in downtown and that could be a good site for the Loo. “Having access to facilities was difficult before COVID and has gotten almost impossible in the last three years,” she said. “I don’t see that as a bad idea.”
According to the work session’s meeting materials, Springfield is receiving millions of dollars, some of which is earmarked for certain projects. The Eugene-Springfield HOME Consortium, which has a goal of providing housing for low-income and special needs populations, was awarded $4.7 million in American Rescue Plan money. And $1 million is expected for projects in Springfield.
The city also received $1 million from the Oregon Legislature to address affordable housing, affordability and homelessness, and it has flexibility in how it can spend it, according to meeting materials.
Springfield’s portion of the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act has been earmarked for affordable housing and/or a new behavioral health center, the meeting materials say. The number wasn’t specified in the materials, but the projects the money is funding has to be approved by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services by Dec. 31, 2024.
And State Rep. John Lively secured $3 million for the development of a new manufactured home park for low-income households. The project grew out of Springfield’s Oregon Solutions projects to address the issue of mobile home park residents facing displacement, according to the meeting materials. These funds have to be awarded to a nonprofit by June 30, 2023.
The councilors also discussed funding a SquareOne Villages co-op on F Street, similar to the one on C Street. The F Street Co-op would create 14 suites, and Moe called the project “a big deal.”
VanGordon said the F Street Co-op is a housing project that the city has been supportive of in the past, “and it’s at a low price point.” If approved, the city would pay $370,000 to purchase land on F Street.
Other projects and programs on the 16-item list that the City Council considered were: $20,000 contribution to assist low-income households with utility bills, a group home for homeless women through the nonprofit Carry It Forward, providing financial resources for homeless families, property purchase for a future affordable housing project — and more.
VanGordon said that when making the final decision on which projects to fund, thinking of how soon it’ll be completed should be considered. “If it’s ready in five years, that’s a relevant piece of information,” he said. He also said that if council has to approve hiring outside consultants to assist staff in completing these projects, he’d be OK with that.
Springfield City Council plans to further discuss which projects it’ll fund at an April 4 work session, but there was some interest in funding one project right away: $93,500 for a backup CAHOOTS van.
VanGordon said that by the end of the meeting he hoped the councilors would “head nod” in having city staff fund the van, but the meeting ended without any formal vote on such an action.
Moe, and the other councilors, spoke highly of funding a new backup van for CAHOOTS. “I don’t care what you say, that CAHOOTS is saving us a lot of problems out there in the streets,” he said. “I want to make sure we support them the best we can.”