Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Mar 18

March 18, 2022

Posted on March 18, 2022 at 3:21 PM by Niyah Ross

This last week of Council meetings before Spring Break packed a policy punch.   Council approved the Moving Ahead framework for future planning on major transportation corridors; agreed to move to a public hearing proposed strengthening of consequences for using streets for living or storage; and also moved the first phase of renters’ protections to a public hearing.

I have written about Moving Ahead in recent blogs.  I appreciate the enormous amount of work and time devoted to creating this planning framework and the influx of public comment both for and against.  It has taken us six years to get to this approval, and the timing is excellent as more infrastructure funding is available than ever before.  The work is incremental and iterative: the framework provides guidance to City staff as they pursue opportunities for funding.  There will be ample opportunities for people to learn more and express their priorities and concerns as designs and funding options develop.  It is a critical step in building the multi-modal, safe transportation infrastructure we need for the larger city we are becoming.

We followed this vote on Monday with another.  Staff presented Council with a proposed ordinance change to heighten the penalty for either setting up a campsite or storing belongings in the street.  This has become more prevalent in the last two years and the existing ordinance imposes a $250 fine, which has been ineffectual.  Violators who are using streets inappropriately are businesses that may choose temporarily to store construction materials, or who place things in the street to deter people from setting up camp; and people who are unsheltered who are trying to live on the streets.

The proposed ordinance increases the fine to $500, as a significant enough increase to deter people with property along the street from storing materials there; or a jail term of 10 days. The threat of jail time is considered more likely to deter people from camping or more likely to relocate when asked to do so.  Councilors were particularly concerned that unsheltered people with nowhere to sleep should be offered the possibility of community service work in lieu of jail time.  This is an option at the discretion of the municipal court judge.  Council moved this forward to a hearing and is interested in hearing comments from the public.  That date has not been set yet.

And finally, Council moved to a public hearing the first phase of staff’s three-phased approach on renters’ protections.  The recommendations from the Housing Policy Board (HPB) were organized by staff into phases based on their immediate impact, legal questions, and complexity of implementation.

In the first phase are recommendations that include a range of improved support services for renters, centered on the creation of a rental housing navigator, better data collection and code enforcement.  Also included are the recommendations requiring move in/out documentation, provision of a tenant’s rental history by the landlord, and requirement that landlords provide information about protections offered under state legislation in SB 608.  All these will have immediate, positive impact on tenants and can be supported with revenue from an increased per/door fee in the Rental Housing Code.

Council approved a motion to adjust and move from Phase Three to Phase One a cap on application and screening fees of $10.  In the HPB recommendations, this was a ban on application fees altogether, which presented more legal questions.  Changing to a capped amount is more easily incorporated in the protections. The first phase proposals will be scheduled for a public hearing this spring.  

The second phase recommendations include limits on deposits for moving in, requiring applications to be reviewed in the order received; and requiring landlords to provide displacement assistance when they are evicting a tenant without cause.  This final recommendation elicited considerable discussion.  The City of Portland has already enacted a displacement fee which has passed legal scrutiny.  City staff wanted more time to review the Portland law with respect to Eugene’s market conditions to determine what adjustments might be made.  Councilors all agreed that they wanted to move quickly to protect renters; but a majority agreed that giving staff time to customize a code to Eugene was wise.  I support that delay, despite my concern that low-income people who lose their housing are vulnerable to homelessness given the cost of accessing new housing.   Hopefully, the protections included in the first phase will help reduce that vulnerability.  Second Phase changes will come to Council ready for a public hearing in the fall.

Third Phase protections include prohibits requiring information about medical or educational debt when evaluating an applicant’s income; using a mandatory credit score of 500; loosening monthly gross income screening standards; and a local prevention or moratorium on no-cause evictions.  Staff are to return to Council with these vetted recommendations by February 2023.

Council is now on a Spring Break for the last two weeks of March; and as usual doesn’t meet during the first week of the month.  We’ll be back for our first meeting on April 11 and we hope that meeting will be hybrid – in person for the first time in our new Council chambers and   also accessible on Zoom. There still could be a technical delay which postpones the in-person meeting – but we expect April to be the transitional month and look forward to being together.

In closing, I quote Noreen Dunnells, Executive Director of United Way, speaking on a panel in the Chamber’s Economic Summit on Thursday: “We aren’t a community just because we live here.  We’re a community because we care about each other.”  Those are words to live by.  Happy spring.