Misleading Rhetoric

Affordable homeownership requires incentives for middle housing

By John Fischer, Tom Bowerman, Andrew Heben and Dylan Lamar

As the investors and developers of the homes that make up the C Street Co-op — likely the most affordable homeownership opportunities created statewide last year — we are disturbed by the misleading “Big Switch on Middle Housing” mailer and proposed housing code amendments circulated by so-called “neighborhood leaders.” 

Neither the four-page glossy mailer nor the proposed amendments will advance “Housing and Climate Justice,” which will likely come as a surprise to many of the signatories of the mailer’s petition.

This small group of white homeowners argue in essence that middle housing zoning changes will result in big monstrous buildings with no affordability, but then argue we should remove all incentives for smaller, affordable homes. 

The C Street Co-op created six “micro” homeownership opportunities for a purchase price of only $10,000, total monthly payments of just $790, and built to a scale that matches the neighborhood. While the “neighborhood leaders” behind the mailer have praised C Street as a model of affordable housing, their proposal would ensure fewer projects like it are built, less middle housing is developed overall, and that what is built will be larger, more expensive homes.

The misleading rhetoric of these “neighborhood leaders” can sound convincing, so let us address some of their claims.

“No affordability requirements”

The Eugene Planning Commission recommendations contain modest incentives for smaller and affordable housing but do not “require” it. This is used as an alarmist false flag, followed by a proposal to actually remove affordability incentives. This would obstruct the two-year public process through which the Planning Commission and its advisory panel of 29 lottery-selected, demographically representative community members aligned their recommendations with the community’s needs. 

If these “neighborhood leaders” truly care about affordability, they would engage this inclusive, transparent process and push for deeper affordability. 

“No restrictions on demolitions”

Do you want the city telling you what you can and can’t do with your existing home? It’s another false flag used to obstruct community process. Old housing gets demolished only when the new housing that replaces it commands a high profit. Developing large luxury homes commands a higher profit than the smaller and affordable homes, which the Planning Commission incentivizes. This does not increase the potential for housing demolitions — it enables housing that meets the needs of Eugeneans. Further, there is a frequent claim that “existing affordable rentals” still exist in this city. That sounds like a claim that could only be made by people who haven’t rented in the last decade.

“Increased height and lot coverage”

The Planning Commission mostly recommends minimum compliance with state law, maintaining the same building setbacks as current requirements for single-family homes. It takes modest steps to encourage middle housing by allowing an additional five feet of building height compared to the 30 feet currently allowed for single-family homes, and an additional 25 percent lot coverage. These are modest changes to help ensure middle housing will actually get built.

“Increased density and bulk”

According to Oregon Housing and Community Services, we need to build 584,000 homes statewide in the next decade. We will not get there without increasing density. However, “density” and “bulk” are not the same thing. A fourplex of small affordable units can be the same size as a luxury home, and yet it offers four times the density — four times as much housing opportunity. Incentivizing more smaller housing units increases the potential for affordable housing outcomes and compatibility with existing homes. 

“No tree protections”

It’s yet another false flag. The same tree protection standards that apply to single-family homes will apply to middle housing. Let’s consider how we can bolster the city’s tree canopy, but let’s not use trees as a weapon against homes.

Home prices have more than doubled in the past decade, and most Eugene renters have lost access to homeownership. Our neighborhoods have become gated communities. The Eugene Planning Commission is unanimously recommending a step in the right direction. And we should do even more to incentivize what Eugene needs: more smaller affordable homeownership opportunities like Springfield’s C Street Co-op. Let’s talk about that — not just how to obstruct the public process to protect the special interests of a few white homeowners profiting from our crisis.

John Fischer and Tom Bowerman are impact investors in the C Street Co-op. Andrew Heben, project director at SquareOne Villages, and Dylan Lamar, architect-developer with Cultivate, Inc. were co-developers of the co-op.