June 20, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Meet the candidate: Eliza Kashinsky

12 min read
Eliza Kashinsky: I'm kind of a giant nerd. When I need to relax, I read zoning codes or budgets or I read Eugene City Council meeting minutes from the 1950s. But if I can use my nerdiness to help Eugene make some real progress on housing and homelessness and climate, I feel it's really important that I try and do so.

This is ‘Meet the Candidate’ on KEPW News. Please tell us about yourself and why you’re running for city council.

Eliza Kashinsky (Eugene City Council candidate, Ward 1): I’m Eliza Kashinsky. I’m running for Ward 1, Eugene City Council.

I’m running in large part because Eugene really is facing some really tough challenges right now, and I think Ward 1 deserves a city councilor who can really hit the ground running, who has the experience and the knowledge to help us tackle these challenges surrounding housing shortages, homelessness, our budget gaps, climate change from day one, and really start getting things done and getting things better from day one.

[00:00:37] A little bit about me, I’ve served on Eugene Budget Committee for almost seven years. I’ve been the vice chair since 2021. I was appointed to the Lane County Planning Commission in 2021 as well, and I was the chair of that in 2023.

[00:00:51] I was on the Eugene Active Transportation Committee from 2014 to 2016. And then I’ve been on a number of working groups and task forces for the city over the years, including the Housing Tools and Strategy Working Group, the Community Safety Revenue Team, Mayor’s Climate Recovery Ordinance Working Group.

[00:01:08] Basically, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in meeting rooms, really trying to work through how we help Eugene be better, for the past seven years.

[00:01:19] I co-founded an advocacy group called WECAN, the Walkable Eugene Citizen Advisory Network. That group was very much focused on how we can create more walkable and diverse and affordable neighborhoods and housing options in Eugene. So really looking at how we can make sure that our residents could find homes that would meet their needs and budgets, sort of at all levels. And so that meant that I spent a lot of time reading zoning code as well, and talking about things like the impacts of density on accessory dwelling units.

[00:01:54] Professionally, I’ve worked for nearly the past 20 years in nonprofit and public sector management, so that’s really looking at the finances, operations, IT, human resources for those organizations and helping them make sure that they had this sort of organizational infrastructure in place to be successful.

[00:02:12] I’m currently working in Human Resources at Lane County, but before that I was the Human Resources director at South Lane Mental Health in Cottage Grove. I was the operations director at the Organic Materials Review Institute, and worked for an organization called the Secular Coalition for America as well.

[00:02:28] I’m kind of a giant nerd. When I need to relax, I read zoning codes or budgets or I read Eugene City Council meeting minutes from the 1950s. My partner and I have spent the last couple of years trying to visit every city in Oregon. We’ve made it to 194 out of 241.  

[00:02:47] I do have some normal hobbies, I promise. I like going to bar trivia and hiking. But if I can use my nerdiness to help Eugene make some real progress on housing and homelessness and climate, I feel it’s really important that I try and do so.

[00:03:02] John Q: What’s the most important issue facing Ward 1 this election? How would you address it?

[00:03:10] Eliza Kashinsky (Eugene City Council candidate, Ward 1): I think if you asked almost anyone in the ward or anyone in the city, the issue they would say that is the most important right now is homelessness.

[00:03:18] And really, that’s about 14 different issues rolled into one. And a lot of times people say their most important issue is homelessness, it can mean different things to different people. Really, it’s a lot of interconnected topics that really need to be focused on both as a collective, but also individually.

[00:03:39] It includes things like housing, housing affordability, housing availability, shelter, shelter availability, substance use, mental health, safety, crime, poverty, social justice—even the city finances get looped into that because obviously all of those things cost money to address and we need money to do that.

[00:04:02] We need to really work on pulling together all of those threads in order to make real progress and really help the people of Eugene, both housed and unhoused, really get to a point where we’re no longer suffering from this crisis. Because people are suffering from this every day. 

It would take a lot longer than I think we have to talk about, like, all 14, so I’m just going to focus on two.

[00:04:27] The first is housing. I mean, I’ve been working on housing issues in Eugene for nine? nine years now, really talking about what do we need to do to get more housing, because of course, if there aren’t homes for people to live in, that contributes to the number of people who are unhoused in our community.

[00:04:51] And we do need homes of different types and different sizes and at different price points, because when we have a situation where it’s like a game of musical chairs and you don’t have enough chairs, and you end up with people not having a place to be. 

A lot of the work with this is really looking at two different types of housing.

[00:05:12] So one of the things we really need to look at is capital A, income-limited Affordable housing. These are houses built by nonprofits or housing authorities, that in order to live in them, you need to be below a certain amount of area median income.

[00:05:30] More of this kind of housing has been coming online in Eugene lately, but it is very challenging to pull together all the resources that we need to provide this housing that is absolutely necessary for those in our community with the fewest resources. So, one of the things that we need to do is continue to have Eugene contribute to the ability for these sorts of projects to happen.

[00:05:55] We do have an affordable housing trust fund, and I have been working very much to make sure that through our budget processes, as we’re looking at how we resolve our budget gap, that funding for affordable housing stays whole.

Another piece is that no matter how much money we put into the affordable housing trust fund, it’s not going to be enough to create all the housing that we need in our community.

[00:06:19] And so some of it is looking at how we can have what is commonly called market-rate housing, but at least sometimes can also be affordable to people who are making below median income. Maybe not those who are at the lowest part of the income ladder, but maybe those who are on the middle range, like low- to middle-side of that. 

And trying to figure out how we can solve the challenges that have created the situation where we just can’t build enough housing in Eugene and can’t build at those price points that make sense for folks.

[00:06:52] We used to be able to do it, you know, there’s housing that’s down the street from me that is affordable to people at 50% area median income, it’s a market rate development. And so what has happened that has prevented us from able to continue to provide that kind of housing?

[00:07:08] When I look at this, it’s a lot of different things. There are things surrounding the way we do permitting. There are things surrounding financing. I’ve particularly focused a lot on barriers in our zoning code to new housing. But there are all those sort of routes that need to be taken to address this.

[00:07:23] I think the other piece I want to talk about is mental health in particular. Eugene is not the county’s behavioral health service provider. Eugene as a city doesn’t have public health. They don’t have, they don’t employ any mental health providers. And so, really, as we’re trying to tackle the complexity of this, it really is looking at how we work together with our partners who do have those resources.

[00:07:54] And that might be Lane County, that might be nonprofits in the area. A good example of this comes from, Eugene provides funding for CAHOOTS, and CAHOOTS is a key part of this, efforts to try and really help folks who are on the street get the resources they need to become more stable and be in a place where they can be housed to be more stable.

[00:08:17] But CAHOOTS doesn’t respond if there is (and they shouldn’t, right?) They can’t go out to a call where they think there might be violence, where they think they might be putting themselves in physical danger. 

And so one of the things that Eugene has recently put in place is they now are working with Lane County Behavioral Health to have a mental health therapist who responds with the police in those situations that may be too dangerous for CAHOOTS. But that it, but that, you know, they think there’s a behavioral health component to what is going on, and that allows them to do immediate behavioral health assessments and care coordination in situations where previously it might have just been a police response and they wouldn’t have gotten those services.

[00:09:03] And so I really think that looking more at those kinds of partnerships, working on how we strengthen those partnerships, making sure that those partnerships continue to be funded is going to be an important part of how Eugene specifically helps contribute to the behavioral health / mental health component of our homelessness crisis.

[00:09:21] John Q: If elected, what would you do differently than your opponent, who at the time of this interview, is Ted Coopman.

[00:09:31] Eliza Kashinsky (Eugene City Council candidate, Ward 1): When I look at House Bill 2001 and the controversy that surrounded that, what I saw as a lot of the difference was there were people, like me, who were comfortable with different types of housing coming into our community, coming into our neighborhood, who were coming at it from a place of opportunity and hope.

[00:09:54] Really, when I look at this, I approach zoning, and I approach how we make changes to our code to allow more housing, from a place of hope. Right? A place of: How can we make this easier? How can we facilitate this? How can we make space for good things that we need? And recognize that every now and then there’s going to be a bad, ugly building that gets built. But I’m willing to live with a few bad, ugly buildings that get built if that also means that we can have enough housing and enough good housing for our community.

[00:10:27] I think that there are, a lot of the opponents of House Bill 2001 come at it from a place of fear. They’ve seen the examples like Capstone and some of the other buildings, and they approach it from: ‘How do we stop these worst outcomes from ever happening?’ And that is an approach to take. But that approach also means that you prevent the good as well. You’re basically throwing out the baby with the bath water, to some degree.

[00:10:54] The big things that people are worried about when they talk about House Bill 2001 and all of the things that were in that appeal (because it was Ted Coopman and Paul Conte who were the two primary people making the arguments), all of the things that were in that appeal were things that wouldn’t actually have resolved the problems that people had with (HB) 2001.

[00:11:14] At the end of the day, there was no way that those LUBA (Land Use Board of Appeals) appeals—it’s not going to go back and get rid of the height limits. It’s not going to go back and adjust any of these other things. And so then it becomes very challenging for me, ’cause I’m looking at this, I’m like, ‘Well, what was the point of that? Why would you invest this time and energy in this appeal if there’s no way it’s going to actually change the thing you want to change? It’s just going to result in delay.’

[00:11:41] And I’ve been an advocate. I spent a lot of time working on housing and zoning advocacy, and I’ve also been on decision-making boards. How you get things done on decision-making boards and what your responsibilities are on decision-making boards is very different from your responsibilities and how you get things done as an advocate.

[00:12:01] When you’re an advocate, you get to make your strongest case and statement and you try and convince others to agree with you. And while there’s some amount of finding compromise in there and you can strengthen your case as you incorporate others’ feedback, it’s really a very different kind of work than, you have a different methodology for getting things done than it is when you’re on a body like city council or budget committee or planning commission.

[00:12:27] When you’re there, first of all, your responsibilities surrounding compromise and collaboration are very different. You know, you’re not there to say, ‘This is what I think we should do,’ which is what you’re there for as an advocate, right? What you’re there for is to say, ‘Hey, we are not all going to ever agree on everything.’

[00:12:48] We have people in our community who are very vocal about what their needs are and what they want. We have people in our community who are less vocal about their needs and what they want. We have people who think we should do one thing. We have people who think we should do completely the opposite thing.

[00:13:03] And your job when you’re on those decision-making bodies is to really absorb all of that, really try and balance all of that, and then come to the conclusion that’s going to do the most good for the most people. And it’s tempting to be like, ‘Oh, this is my opinion,’ or, ‘This is what my friend thinks I should do.’

[00:13:25] But really, you’ve got to remember that the number of people who show up to Eugene City Council for public comment is a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of the citizens of Eugene. The people like me who are going to spend their Monday nights like sitting around—we’re not necessarily a representative group of the community. And so a lot of it is, like, not forgetting that and taking that into account and taking the time: Find out what the waitress at the restaurant you’re at, what her needs are; find out what the person walking their dog in front of your house. And then really come at that from a place of hearing it as opposed to a place of trying to convince them.

[00:14:08] And then at the end of the day, you still have to make that decision. But you can make that decision while incorporating all those other spaces.

[00:14:16] I think another thing is that a lot ends up being really quiet. It doesn’t end up being something that you’re out there saying, ‘I talked to all these people,’ or, ‘Here’s this thing,’ or ‘Here’s how I helped accomplish this goal.’ Right? One of the really weird things about running for office is everyone is saying, ‘Oh, you need to talk about that time that you did this or that.’ Like, ‘Make sure not to forget to mention the time that you, like, helped ensure that the funding for the Human Services commission that Eugene was doing didn’t get cut.’

[00:14:49] But that is to a large degree not really who I am, I’m, like, most focused on getting the work done. I don’t really feel like I need the credit for it, and I don’t really feel like I need to use the fact that I got that work done to try and promote myself, or to leverage it for some other purpose.

[00:15:08] So that’s a little bit about how I approach this and how I am. I feel like this question is set up in a little bit in a way that kind of encourages someone to lean negative, to talk about where they think their opponent’s flaws might be.

[00:15:21] And another thing that I think is about me is that I’m very (to the degree possible), I try and stay positive. I try and treat everybody I work with, with respect. I try and really talk about where I’m coming from and not go and attack other people. And so I think if you’re asking about differences, that’s the most positive way I can do it.

[00:15:43] John Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the voters? And how can people get involved in your campaign?

[00:15:52] Eliza Kashinsky (Eugene City Council candidate, Ward 1): If folks would like to learn more about me or get in contact, they can visit my website, which is ElectEliza.com (Eliza spelled E-L-I-Z-A).

For the record, I will probably be knocking on your door at some point if you live in Ward 1. And so, feel free to answer it. I’ll have a little button with my name on it so that that way you can know it’s me. And then please do vote in the election in May.

[00:16:18] John Q: Ward 1 candidate Eliza Kashinsky—You can contact her through her website at ElectEliza.com

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