Redefining Housing 

As the housing market evolves in Oregon, some groups are changing the way we accommodate our financial future

Living in a “cooperative”? I never gave the idea much thought, and I sure didn’t think I’d join a co-op housing community. To me, a co-op sounded like a loose-knit commune where people followed certain ideals without question. 

As it turns out, that’s not the case.

Last December, my family and I moved into a new cooperative in Santa Clara called Peace Village, and I discovered that co-ops can have a different purpose.

SquareOne Villages is a nonprofit in Lane County with the mission to develop affordable housing while maintaining a self-managed community for people to live in small homes. There are six different sites in Springfield and Eugene, and Peace Village, the newest project, is on River Road.

Before my family of three moved to Peace Village we lived in the Jefferson Westside area for four years. We had a two-bedroom apartment with a bath and a backyard. In 2020, the rent seemed reasonable for two parents with steady jobs. However, as the years passed, so did that stable rent. 

COVID hit a heavy blow on the economy. Inflation slowly rose in and around Oregon, according to Business Oregon. Between the first quarter of 2020 and the third quarter of 2023, home prices rose 31.4 percent in Oregon. Washington rose 38.9 percent and Idaho 51.3 percent.

This may explain the surge renters have seen in the last couple of years. A brief research paper, “Housing and Affordability in Oregon” by Oregon Voices, a project of the Ford Family Foundation, explains that the cost of housing far exceeds the budgets of many Oregon families. Nearly 1.7 million households work without being paid enough to meet basic needs.

My family reconsidered our options, and began to look for something more sustainable. We weren’t the only ones.

“I was looking for anything, applying for whatever I could possibly get,” says Denise Silva, a Peace Village co-op member who previously lived in Seattle, Washington. “I needed affordable housing. We weren’t getting increases in our paychecks. In fact, income decreased because Medicare costs were going up.” Silva receives Supplemental Security Income related to a disability. She explains that most of it went into paying bills above and beyond housing fees.

In 2022, the Peace Presbyterian Church on River Road sold its 3.6 acre property to SquareOne for a marked-down price. In return, SquareOne sold the property to Peace Village for the cost of the construction loan to build 70 units.

SquareOne combined a Community Land Trust, which helps protect the properties’ long-term affordability, and a limited-equity co-op (LEC), a home ownership arrangement to give occupants a voice in decision-making. SquareOne established a blanket mortgage — instead of an individual one — that supports both the co-op and repayment of the loan it carries.

What that means for my family and every tenant at Peace Village is that each qualified member pays $5,000 as part of the LEC, along with a monthly payment of $450 to $750, depending on unit size. This includes utilities, mortgage payment, maintenance, reserves, insurance and operating costs. 

“There has to be a change with the ability to have mixed housing,” says Chava Kronen, the housing outreach specialist at Head Start of Lane County. “Most families aren’t going to see a huge inheritance to help them buy a house. There just isn’t that generational wealth.”

Back in December, when we were still contemplating our move to Peace Village, a meeting was held with City Planner Terri Harding and Housing Implementation Pipeline Analyst Amber Friedman and the Eugene Planning Commission to discuss the severe rent crisis in Eugene.

Friedman said the average rent right now in Eugene is $1,287, with a median household income of $55,776.

“Decades of housing under-production in Oregon has left the whole state with a shortage of 140,000 housing units, compared to what is needed to house our communities,” Friedman said. She explained that as a result there aren’t enough places to rent, making the market more competitive.

With this information, it was hard to look past a five-year-plan for my family. I’m a first-generation immigrant, a citizen who pays taxes, makes a conscious choice to further his education and gets good grades. I believed that the debt my choices generated was the American way to move on up. No?

What I have found is a different side to the American dream. Where we as immigrants stand is on the margin, on the edge. Does our salary meet the criteria of the economic median for each household?

“If the majority of the culture thinks that’s as it should be, then that’s the culture,” says Sam Roudebush, another tenant that lives at Peace Village with his wife. “Culture evolves in a group and so do values.” The rules of society become socially accepted because of our involvement.

That said, at Peace Village a new opportunity has opened, with a post-millennial, generation Z and baby boomer mix. We are hoping to influence the market. The sum of our parts is proving significant in the way that we live.

Melvin Bravo is a first generation immigrant and Eugene Weekly intern who lives with his family in Peace Village.