affordable housing illustration

(Illustration by Ia Balbuena-Nedrow/Emerald)

It took Richie Weinman nearly six months to get the permits to build a side house on one of his properties for his son.

Weinman, who now teaches at the University of Oregon after serving as the city of Eugene’s community services manager for 26 years, wanted to provide his son an affordable place to live — which according to Weinman, isn’t something all Eugene residents have.

“We've had a housing shortage since the late ’80s, where we've had near-zero vacancy rates,” Weinman said. “Landlords have a significant advantage with low vacancy rates. The prices go up.”

A recent bill that was introduced in January aims to make housing more affordable through so-called “middle housing” and has gained traction in Eugene. House Bill 2001 would require any city in Oregon with a population more than 25,000 to allow various multi-housing options, including duplexes, cottage clusters, townhouses and accessory dwelling units — like the one Weinman built for his son.

According to Weinman, ADUs, which are considered stand-alone residential living spaces that sit independent of the main single-family house, are extremely difficult to start.

Because of current zoning laws in Eugene, the process of building ADUs in R-1 zoned areas (space dedicated only for single family homes), could take months for issuing permits alone. According to the American Institute of Architects, R-1 zones comprise 91 percent of Lane County.

“It was complicated to do it — actually very complicated,” Weinman said. “[ADUs] will create opportunities to build and create more housing.”

The bill was unanimously approved by a house committee on Monday, April 8, after Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek agreed to a number of changes. The city of Eugene has adopted a position to oppose the bill, Eugene City Councilman Chris Pryor said.

“I agree with what House Bill 2001 is trying to accomplish,” Pryor said. “But it proposes a one-size-fits-all option to a very complex zoning structure. It trashes years of planning work Eugene has already done to accommodate affordable housing options.”

Pryor, who has been in office for 14 years, said the residents of many neighborhoods would prefer to expand the urban growth boundary, the area where growth is allowed in city lines. This expansion, or “sprawl,” hasn't been legal since 1973, after the passing of Senate Bill 100.

“We can't expand to avoid density because of the state, and we can't increase density because of opposition from neighborhoods,” Pryor said. “Neither side is willing to budge. So we have to look for legal authority to go one way or the other. In a way, that may be the biggest challenge: the confrontive and uncompromising nature of the discussion.”

Pryor’s fears of neighborhood disillusionment seem to have been echoed by a number of Register Guard opinion editorials written this past month.

“HB 2001 would allow multiplexes to be built on any property that is currently zoned for single-family homes,” wrote Randall Kolb of Eugene, on March 21. “HB 2001 would bring about the ruin of Eugene’s university area neighborhoods.”

Support for the bill comes in the form of a local nonprofit called 1000 Friends of Oregon, whose mission is to improve the quality of living for those in urban and rural communities. Staff Director Mary Kyle McCurdy thinks that increased urban density, as opposed to sprawl, would benefit neighborhoods now and in the future.

“Exclusively single-family, detached housing zones are economically exclusive, and many are the remnants of racially discriminatory redlining and zoning practices from the first half of the 20th century,” McCurdy said. “That is not who Oregonians believe they are today, so we should reflect that in our neighborhoods and not just our words.”

The group 1000 Friends succeeded in appealing an urban growth expansion near Woodburn, Oregon, in 2014. McCurdy said that aside from advocating for policy change, there are a number of places students can get involved themselves to advocate for housing issues.

“There are groups that help the homeless, groups that help build houses, groups that advocate for policy changes,” McCurdy said. “There’s Better Housing Together, Habitat for Humanity, St. Vincent's and more.”

Kaarin Knudson, a UO professor in the architecture school and project lead for Better Housing Together, said that while everyone wants affordable housing, nobody agrees on how to get there.

“As a community, we need to stop seeing these issues in opposition to one another,” Knudson said. “And in the case of ADUs, we need to not villainize them or paint them as something that is going to damage the community.”

Knudson, who graduated from UO with an master’s degree of architecture in 2007, said that a large amount of the opposition stems from a small number of people who fear change of any kind in their neighborhoods.

“It's not fair to hold 65 or 85 percent of the community hostage because a few people don't want for this community to be more equitable and more sustainable,” Knudson said.

The bill is currently with the Joint Ways and Means Committee, potentially on its way to the floors of the House and Senate by this year.

Weinman finished the side house for his son and is able to charge him an affordable rate. He maintains that the process of building an ADU was too expensive to consider making a profit off the rent.

“Why do people build accessory dwelling units?” Weinman asked. “So their mother can live somewhere, so their child can live somewhere. They’re not doing it to make a profit. They’re doing it for a family member.”

News Reporter

Donny Morrison is a news reporter covering the city beat for the Daily Emerald. In the past he's written feature stories for both Ethos Magazine and The Torch. He takes strictly cold showers.

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