ADUs like this one could soon fill Eugene

Eugene Needs to Get its Act Together on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

On July 1, Oregon Senate Bill 1051 quietly went into effect. Cities across the state now must take steps to help homeowners build ADUs–Accessory Dwelling Units, sometimes called tiny homes–on their lots.

Eugene apparently didn’t get the memo. Homeowners looking for a lucrative income stream and renters struggling to find housing in Eugene’s tight market are still losing out.

We first wrote about SB 1051 after several of us attended a mid-April Eugene City Council meeting on the topic. A number of Eugene residents spoke passionately and intelligently either for or against easing barriers to ADU construction.

Proponents pointed to ADUs as a way to help ease Eugene’s very real housing crisis. Eugene has, surprisingly, the nation’s second most-constrained housing market as of early 2017.

ADU construction on par with other Oregon cities could have a significant positive impact on housing scarcity. Bend is a good case study–check out our article on the state of ADUs in Bend.

On the other side of the aisle, neighborhood association representatives voiced a feeling of being excluded from the process. They voiced concerns about density-related issues like traffic, parking, and loss of privacy.

Several neighborhood residents pointed out that these associations don’t necessarily represent their views. They are, however, powerful political forces, exerting what many view as an undue influence on city councilors.

Underlying the conversation, of course, is the fact that SB 1051 is now enshrined in state law. Penalties for noncompliance are not specified. However, the City of Eugene is now vulnerable to any lawsuits that homeowners and developers might bring forth.

At the risk of being inflammatory, Eugene’s heel-dragging on the issue exemplifies a political mentality that consistently misses the big picture for the concerns of a vocal few.

Local ADU Regulations: What is “Reasonable,” and What Isn’t?

SB 1051’s initial language was vague, merely requiring cities to allow ADUs pursuant to “reasonable” local regulations. When cities like Eugene unsurprisingly dragged their feet, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development issued a document specifying precisely what they meant by “reasonable.”

These guidelines clarify that cities should abandon minimum lot size, owner-occupancy, design, and parking requirements. Nonetheless, Eugene’s city council has done nothing to loosen existing restrictions on just these items.

On the contrary, the Council actually voted to prohibit ADU construction in the Chambers and Jefferson Westside special area zones. The City’s only real constructive action to date has been to drop certain zoning restrictions on ADUs.

City fees, including System Development Charges–read more about SDCs here–remain prohibitive. From 2014-17, the City of Eugene issued permits for an average of 2 ADUs per year. Bend homeowners are building hundreds of them. Clearly, existing regulations do not encourage homeowners to construct tiny homes on their lots.

Over the coming months, the city will enter “Phase 2” of its discussions on ADUs. Further progress is to be hoped for, but the Council’s work to date doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Why do ADUs Matter?

Contrary to a lot of the rhetoric around the issue, ADUs don’t in and of themselves provide low-income housing. (An exception would be ADUs built specifically for that purpose, as with projects proposed by several local churches.) Using Bend as our example, ADUs in desirable areas can end up renting for almost as much as the main property they sit upon.

Nonetheless, more housing means more vacancies, and this in turn leads to more affordable housing in the longer-term. ADUs also provide homeowners strapped for cash a potentially attractive financing option.

Trying to find any kind of housing in Eugene has been a challenge in recent years. It isn’t just lower-income housing that is experiencing a crunch.

The reasons for this are multi-faceted, and though it’s fun to complain about the government, regressive local politics are only partially to blame. In reality, ADUs need to be part of a broader long-term housing strategy that meets the needs of all of Eugene’s demographics.

In a way, ADUs are a litmus test. Can city policies fall into step with the very obvious realities of the housing market, not to mention the State of Oregon’s mandate?

If so, we can start to be hopeful that Eugene might serve as a leader not just in progressive rhetoric but progressive action as well. As it stands, Eugene’s oft-maligned neighbor Springfield is actually leading the way in housing policy.

Through June 30, 2019, Springfield is waving System Development Charges on new ADUs entirely. ADUs are just part of the town’s broader long-term strategy: a primer is available here. Perhaps concerned citizens can forward it on to Eugene’s city councilors.

WE CAN–Walkable Eugene Citizens Advisory Network–are passionate advocates of housing choice, walkable neighborhoods, and citizen involvement. They’ve been blogging regularly about Eugene’s ADU saga–be sure to check out their blog and the rest of their website.

While ADUs aren’t quite a viable option yet, if you’re looking for affordable housing in Eugene, we have some tips for you right here. Better yet, get in touch with us, and we’ll put our noses to the ground right away to help you find a home.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *