University of Oregon Expands! Eugene’s Housing Crisis

In 2016, The University of Oregon announced plans to host the Olympic Trials in 2020 and subsequent championships in 2021. Between the two events, our small riverside city expects an influx of over 80,000 transients: roughly half of the city’s overall population.

That same year, the Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 1533, which authorized Oregon cities to ordain Construction Excise Taxes (CET). This effort [though inadequate still] is meant to offset community displacement: developers, who benefit most from gentrification in any community, pay into a fund meant to support those who benefit least– the underpaid residents of those communities. CETs taxes the overall value of permitted development projects and apply those funds to the creation and maintenance of affordable housing.

Our local CET requires that developers pay a one-time .33% tax on the overall value of the permitted work the first year (2019), and .5% every year thereafter. Funds collected then go directly into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, overseen by an advisory committee, of which I am chair.

However, for the first two years, the Eugene City Council provided an exemption. The city will offset all CET taxes by reimbursing developers using our General Funds through July 2021, just one month before the big championships.

In essence, the millions of dollars pouring into our city to bolster UO’s pet project will be diverted from one fund to another, cutting what would be public investment dollars in half. At the same time, we will suffer a significant spike to the cost of living in our already squeezed housing market. It’s a fucking farce. We’re paying the price of our own gentrification. We’re paying for the shitty public housing we’ll all have to move into when rent exceeds average monthly wages. And yet developers coming in to capitalize off our backs walk away clean. Scraps just aren’t gonna’ cut it much longer.

I won’t make assumptions about the intent or influence of our local public leadership, but as a student at the University of Oregon, as an embedded community member and homelessness organizer, as chair of what feels like a rubber stamp committee, and as a low-income head of household myself, I can say the stipulations attached to the tax truly hit home.

Why? Because through all of this, thousands of my neighbors live without a home; because planning for a future living out of a car in my community seems more reasonable than planning for a future as a homeowner; and finally, because the unfettered expansion of the University of Oregon is a fundamental cause of the expansive housing crisis my community faces, and yet the institution and its partners evade all responsibility to formally address it.

The Crisis: Eugene leads the nation in number of people experience homelessness per capita 13,070 households experienced homelessness in Lane County for at least one night in 2018. 1,537 duplicated individuals were served at St. Vincent De Paul’s Egan Warming Centers during 22 nights of activation during the winter season 2018-2019.2,490 homeless students attended public school in Lane County during the 2017-2018 school year(Oregon Dept. of Education). This includes those doubled up or couch-surfing with relatives or friends.

51,977 people were served by agencies that track projects in ServicePoint, Lane County’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). 130 newly homeless people entering HMIS system for the first time each month 2.9% Vacancy rate of homes for rent in Eugene (4 points less than the national average) Reports of rent raises of as much as 67% between tenancies last year.

Sarah Pishioneri is a mom, community organizer, and senior student at the University of Oregon seeking an undergraduate degree in political science with a focus in labor studies.

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