This was a big news week for the City that began with a long, challenging conversation in Council on Monday night.
On Monday, Council addressed two on-going issues related to housing. In 2019, Council approved a Construction Excise Tax (CET) imposed on residential and commercial construction to create a local revenue stream for an Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, Council decided to prioritize the allocation of the first year’s CET revenue to rental support. This meant that $500,000 of the total fund balance of $800,000 was directed to rental assistance; the remaining $300,000, dedicated for housing development, was allocated to a project by the nonprofit Cornerstone Community Housing.
This year the fund is bigger, totaling almost $1.5 million; but the need for rent assistance is now fully met by $34 million allocated to the County from State and Federal resources. Council approved, with slight modification, the recommendation of the AHTF Advisory Council to allocate at least 75% of the total fund to housing development, and prioritizing to the extent possible the remaining 25% to assist members of the BIPOC community. Slightly rounding up this recommendation, Council approved a $1 million allocation for housing development.
To emphasize the significance of this local fund, staff reported that our total federal HUD annual funding for housing development through the HOME grant is $1.2 million which we share with Springfield. As a local fund, the AHTF has the benefit of being more flexible and immediately responsive to local needs.
Council’s second discussion on Monday focused on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU). As you may recall, Council has undertaken a long, iterative process since 2018 in response to SB 1051 which requires localities to remove barriers to the construction of these small houses in residential neighborhoods. Monday’s session was scheduled to vote on a few remaining barriers in our code and that the City has been required by the State to bring into compliance.
Among the most challenging of these final changes is a requirement to allow at least one ADU associated with each single-family dwelling. In the Jefferson-Westside neighborhood where their special area zone allows two one family dwellings on lots above a certain size, this could result in some lots now having two main dwellings and two accessory dwellings.
Councilor Syrett had also brought a number of amendments to the proposed City code changes including an increase in the maximum height of ADU’s from 18 to 25 feet in response to testimony offered at the May hearing that 25 feet allows design flexibility and the potential for a two-story ADU.
Council was unwilling to move forward on a final vote because of a majority who felt that community members, particularly in Jefferson Westside, should have more time to review both Councilor Syrett’s proposed amendments and the staff’s “Option B” amendment that would reflect the specific issue in Jefferson Westside. The vote has been postponed to the Council meeting on September 15.
On Wednesday, our scheduled joint meeting with the Board of Commissioners was postponed to July 28th because of the visit to Eugene by Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg. The Secretory joined Congressman Peter DeFazio in a tour to both learn about our transportation and safety priorities, and to advocate for DeFazio’s Invest in America and the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan. I joined Springfield Mayor Van Gordon and LTD General Manager, Aurora Jackson, in welcoming the Secretary. I was grateful for an opportunity to meet individually with the Secretary to describe our local investment in biking infrastructure, meeting our climate goals, and joining our partners in redeveloping Franklin Boulevard.
Earlier that day I also offered opening remarks as a Climate Mayor to members of “America is All In”, a partnership of cities, businesses and educational institutions who support the federal infrastructure investment as a critical step in addressing climate change.
And speaking of climate change, Council made clear their focus on improving our tree canopy in several discussions and policy discussions this year. To increase our understanding of our tree canopy, City leadership was invited by our arborists to join them in climbing a tree. This morning, I climbed 150 feet to the top of a Douglas-fir in a city park, fully harnessed, ably coached, and reassured by the steady banter of Urban Forester, Scott Altenhoff. It was inspiring, hopeful, and energizing to hang among the branches of an awe-inspiring tree and to know that our urban forest is managed with care, intelligence, and a love for our canopy. Enjoy the shade!