Council is grappling with issues that are long and deep, and this week’s work sessions reflected the challenge in finding the right balance. On Monday night we moved forward to a public hearing three additional protections for renters; and on Wednesday received a briefing from Good Company on decarbonizing commercial and industrial buildings.
But first, Council had the pleasure of approving Leia Pitcher as the new permanent Independent Police Auditor. Councilors universally expressed their appreciation for her thoughtful, thorough, and steady leadership over the past year in her interim role. We are fortunate to be able to fill this role with someone who has helped build our citizen oversight system and understands the goals and values of our community.
The second half of Monday’s session focused on the second phase of work in addressing the vulnerability of renters in the very tight and expensive housing market. All councilors understand that the long term solution is to build more housing and they have adopted policies to support that: in the adoption of the Construction Excise Tax to create a local revenue source; in approving middle housing and Accessory Dwelling Unit code adjustments; in the integrated Housing Implementation Pipeline plan; and in their on-going investments in the construction of affordable housing with federal HUD dollars.
At the same time, new housing cannot be built fast enough to improve the situation of renters who are facing a merciless market. The first phase of protections was passed in July and included creation of a Housing Navigator position in the city to work with tenants and property owners. In addition, Council imposed a cap on screening fees and required landlords to document the condition of the rental unit with photo or video at move-in; as well to provide information about tenant rights and provide a record of a tenant’s rental history without question.
In this second phase, Council voted to move forward three new protections: a limitation on deposits to twice the monthly rent; a requirement that landlords process applications in the order received; and a set of displacement protection assistance measures. The first two protections did not elicit a lot of controversy, either at the council table or in listening sessions conducted by staff with tenants and landlords. Most of the discussion and disagreement centers on displacement protection assistance. Council has supported the concept -- it is included in the Housing Implementation Pipeline approved in 2021. It has also been under discussion by the Housing Policy Board (HPB) for several years. That said, the HPB recommended pushing this protection into the later third phase of protections because of the challenge of finding agreement between landlords and tenants.
In a 5-3 vote, council chose to move forward with recommendations in a draft ordinance in order to give the public specific proposals on which to comment. The proposals require landlords to provide displacement assistance when a tenant is no-cause evicted or their rent is increased by 5% or more in a 12 month period; and sets the displacement assistance payment amount at three times the current Fair Market Rent published by HUD. In addition, the proposal directs the City to create a Small Landlord Compensation Fund for landlords that earn less than 80% of area median income.
I will say two things about this: first, with over 50% of our city renting their homes; and over 30% of those renters spending more than a third of their income on rent, I believe that some intervention is necessary to help prevent more people from being forced to move into their cars because they can’t afford a rent increase. Second, I recognize that landlords are also facing increasing costs and there has to be a balancing act. The power right now is all in the hands of property owners while the costs and stresses of the market – and vulnerability to loss – is disproportionately on the shoulders of too many tenants who have no options. The public hearing will be important in helping council find the right balance.
This is already a long blog and I have one more big topic – decarbonization. Council’s meeting on Wednesday did not point to any specific actions. This was the first opportunity to dive into data that clarifies the landscape of our commercial and industrial sector and their level of GHG emissions and the opportunities for reducing those emissions.
The report is lengthy and detailed, but it very instructively breaks down commercial operations into sectors such food sales and food service, education, healthcare, lodging, office, retail, warehouse and storage. Each sector has a footprint. In one chart, for example, the report illustrated the emissions for space heating in offices, schools, government buildings, hotels and strip malls. These are high emitters of GHG, but at the same time, these types of buildings also lend themselves to available electric technology that can reduce their emissions.
Among the obvious recommendations in the report is the first one: the City of Eugene should lead by example and decarbonize our own buildings. It’s important to remember that this study is about decarbonizing existing buildings – but as we talk about the building standards and technology changes available, it will inform our perspective on new buildings. For at least a decade, the city and partners have looked at economic development by sector: food and beverage, technology and green technology for example. My take-away from this first discussion of the challenges and opportunities to decarbonize is that we could dovetail decarbonization within that economic development framework. It would support both existing business as they grow and new businesses getting started. Staff will return to Council on December 30th for a discussion about engaging the community in the consideration of decarbonization. There is much more to come.