Our public comment of the month for September 2021: Todd Boyle7 min read
Todd Boyle: There’s two things Oregonians hate, and one of them is sprawl. And the other is density (laughter). Historically, you know, it looks like finally Oregonians have made up their mind that they have to choose one or the other, and they’re going to allow density. And that is the very strong change in historic direction.
With our “Public Comment of the Month” for September, Todd Boyle.
[00:00:27] Todd Boyle: I came to talk about the problem of the bottom 20 or 30% of Eugenians whose rent and housing costs are quite excessive. And which I believe is actually reflecting of the housing shortage at the price points that they can afford.
In 2018, the city said that there were 36,000 people living on a thousand dollars a month, so they can afford something like $300 a month. There’s 50,000 people who are paying 40% or more of their income for rent. Many of the suggestions of Housing Tools and Strategy, they have already come to pass, which is interesting and that has to do with ADUs and with the denser affordable housing types. But HB 2001—it’s not going to automatically result in any cheaper housing, and we don’t want to be sitting here five years from now saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we deregulated land and we let them build ADUs and everything. Where’s the cheap housing?’
So there has to be an affirmative strategy by the city. What I’d really like to see happen is a “Housing Tools and Strategies 2.0” and revisit this issue specifically around the lower income people, because their housing is shrinking in numbers and it’s not going to increase. And it needs an affirmative strategy.
[00:01:37] John Q: He expanded on those comments.
[00:01:39] Todd Boyle: The importance of low-income housing to my mind is that without cheap housing, obviously you lose your artist community. This is well understood. They can’t afford to pay rent if they have to pay, they can’t afford to be a musician. But also there’s all these other types of people who are not in the money economy, and that would include very important thinkers and philosophers and spiritual leaders of all kinds, also the cultural creatives, and I’m going to say some of the psychedelic-informed culture of Eugene. Old people can’t afford to pay market rents. These people are a vital part of a society. And without the vision and the belief and the knowledge that they carry, the elders and the wise people, society is really in trouble because nobody knows actually what’s important or how to get there.
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And there’s two worlds. You’re either a renter or you’re an owner. And we didn’t make up the Monopoly board, although the rules are changing . They just cut us a huge opportunity.
Now we have ADUs in the land use code and building code. And H.B. 2001, it abolished single detached housing as a zoning type. It doesn’t require you to put in duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and cottage clusters on every lot. But it allows anyone who owns a piece of land, anyone who owns any lot, they can build these affordable housing types. That is huge. That is really historic for any state.
In 2021, the state legislature went even further and they said, if you build the affordable housing types that we encoded into House Bill 2001, then you’re allowed to subdivide your property into tiny lots. And then the people can own their own tiny lot.
And then you go out and form up into partnerships, limited partnerships, this is not a forever deal, but you form up into sixes, you buy your own property, you roll up your sleeves and do most of your own work, and you build six cottage clusters and you gets some free legal aid to subdivide into six parcels. And then that’s the end of the partnership, and you get to own your own place.
But the population is entirely unprepared for this opportunity, because nothing like this has ever come over the horizon before. And so what’s going to happen is that there’s not going to be very much stuff getting built cheaply. Instead, the developers are always first on the stick, you know, and they’re going to say, ‘Oh great. Now I can go to these lots near downtown and put up a fourplex and sell them for $200,000 each.’ Well, the mortgage on $200,000 is like over a thousand dollars a month. This is not going to help the people we’re talking about.
There are 50 or 75,000 people in Lane County who, the numbers just don’t work for them. And we are living in an economy that has been rapidly automating for many, many years, and it doesn’t need three-fourths of the population working in jobs, of what they call bull**** jobs—Is that what Barbara Ehrenreich called them?—where they’re jobs that aren’t necessary, but they’re sort of just there to occupy seats, you know? And they’re there for a mechanism for the distribution of income.
If we have such a large population of traumatized and displaced people and that, these numbers are growing and growing, and we have a free market economy that’s quite corrupt actually—if you want to have a modern civilization, then you have to deal with your population.
I mean, when the city is paying so much for taking care of homeless people, it costs so much to take care of the wreckage after families are broken up and you have addiction and you have family violence, people are just stressed over the human limit, and you have alcoholism and all these, and you have property crime, and violence. These are a result of not allowing people to live. You know, we just put so much pressure on them and drive them out into the street. So it would make sense for the city to subsidize in various ways.
You know, anytime you want to produce something that costs below what the market wants to pay for that lot and that kind of structure, then basically you have to pay down the difference.
The city obviously has a range of incentives that they use when they want to encourage certain types of development. They could waive system development charges. That’s like $10,000 per unit, and there’s also permit fees that are tall, four-figure money. Those could be waived.
The city has access to land, especially the county has access to land. They have land that they already own. They could just go out there and plot some subdivisions with 1000-square-foot lots. And these are presumptive low-income lots, with no parking, with nice shared spaces like cottage clusters, beautiful layouts, and then just sell those at market. And that would result in presumptive low-income housing. And you get a lot of low income housing.
For that matter, they could just do manufactured housing parks, mobile home parks, but make them small plots so that you’ve got a 28-foot trailer, you can put it there, or a mobile home, or a tiny house on wheels. That’s real typical, you know, a tiny house on wheels is usually typically 20 to 25 feet, and people would flock there to park their tiny houses on wheels.
There are public sector options for getting more housing cheaply, and one of them was certainly the Square One Village model, which, Square One Villages has done this over and over again. They’ve proven that with a little bit of subsidy and a little bit of help with the land, they can erect housing at costs of around $100,000 per unit, actual housing with the plumbing and electric permanent housing we’re talking about here, and Dylan [Lamar] with C Street Co-op has built six units over in Springfield and those came in for a hundred thousand dollars a unit.
There are a number of things that could be done to ensure that cheaper units get built.
And that also turned out in the “Housing Tools and Strategies” meetings, which I attended and videoed in 2019. They recommended 80 recommendations and those were pretty liberal recommendations. And they anticipated what the legislature did by recommending to allow more affordable housing types, and those were strongly voted, like, 10 to one. And this is strong evidence to me that the average citizen in Eugene is actually in favor of allowing cheaper housing types for the sake of our unhoused neighbors.
Eugene will be required to have a public hearing for this important change implementing House Bill 2001. The public hearing will be October 26th. That’s a Tuesday. I advise any listener to just Google for “Planning and Development, Eugene, Oregon, middle housing,” and that’ll pull up a whole nest of resources: the draft code to implement House Bill 2001, the Middle Housing bill. You can submit written testimony and a lot of people do that. That’s what I plan to do. And also you can testify at the hearing, it’s just like speaking at City Council and it’ll almost certainly be online.
(I also recorded the Housing Policy Board meetings for a couple of years and those are highly informative and those are on https://youtube.com/toddboyle.)
[00:08:59] John Q: Todd Boyle encouraging support for middle housing, our Public Comment of the Month.