Our local economy is the lifeblood of our city. If our businesses and industry are enriching our community and producing living wage jobs we have a solid foundation to tackle many of our other problems. We need to work effectively with our business and labor partners to reduce barriers to commerce and promote more productivity and wage growth. This includes incorporating a Community Benefits framework which prioritizes the use of local labor, locally sourced materials, and reduces our carbon footprint.
I will explore the creation of Innovation Zones in our community, much like the tech field has done in downtown and the micro-brewers have created in the Whiteaker neighborhood. By co-locating similar industries we can encourage innovative collaboration and support fields that produce clean enterprise; as well as develop efficient service delivery systems, reducing costs and our footprint.
Two opportunities present themselves immediately:
Eugene’s 2.9% rental vacancy rate is less than half the national average, and the rising cost of housing puts it beyond reach for many of our working citizens. The State of Oregon now says that 25% of the renters in our community pay 50% or more of their income just for housing. This makes it very difficult to get ahead, and for many it’s a slow path to homelessness. Eugene lacks more than 14,000 housing units for low-income workers, who have resources but can’t find a place they can afford. We must increase the amount and diversity of our housing to ease the stress on our most vulnerable workers, and provide the opportunity for our children to remain in our community as adults should they choose to do so. We need to establish policies that incent housing development including compact development in our downtown, and along our transit corridors. To this end, I am happy to report that at my first City Council meeting on January 11th after taking office, I was honored to be a part of a unanimous vote in support of three housing projects that will produce a combined 195 units of low-income housing with 45 of those units being supportive housing.
Wage stagnation over the past forty years is a challenge many people in Eugene face when trying to support their families. Cities have few opportunities to impact wages, but we can focus on working with local partners such as the Homebuilders, and the organizations focused on building affordable housing to remove barriers and leverage city resources where they can do the most good.
Let’s have compassion for those experiencing poverty in our community and thoughtfully move the most vulnerable people off our streets and into housing. At the same time our solutions have to take into consideration their impact on neighborhoods, our local business community and our parks and open spaces. Solutions should not be an either or condition. I believe balance can be achieved to provide compassionate support without adversely impacting other aspects of our community.
Let’s also help families and youth who are experiencing unstable housing and situational homelessness find security. In the 4j School District, nearly 5% of the student population are living in this condition. In the Bethel School District, almost 9% of the students fall into this category. State figures reveal that one in five Lane County children suffer from food insecurity. If we want to break the cycle of homelessness, we have to address the causes as well as the symptoms. One such step would be to invest in backstop programs that help low-wage workers finance homes and keep vulnerable families from losing the homes they already have.
The TAC Report on Homelessness, commissioned by Lane County and the City of Eugene, provides a realistic road map to address much of our challenge. But the problem has outgrown the scope of the report and we need to respond with larger and more aggressive strategies to stabilize this situation in our community. We need larger supervised and managed camps to move people off of our streets and out of our parks and public spaces. This is safer and healthier for our unhoused population as well as our residents, businesses and workers.
But even as we share compassion for those who did not choose to be homeless and actively seek help in escaping poverty, we must recognize that a small segment of the unhoused population chooses to live outside the law and prey on our citizens, both housed and unhoused, to support a criminal lifestyle. We must commit to the strong and ongoing enforcement of our laws to address this growing behavior problem, not just downtown, but in our West Eugene commercial/industrial area, our downtown and in all our neighborhoods. We need to find solutions that work for our entire community.
Eugene’s citizens don’t just need to be safe, they need to feel safe - in their homes, their neighborhoods, on the streets and in all of our public places. I support our public safety system because I’ve experienced first-hand the crucial role that system plays in our community.
Our police and fire departments are the backstop for our community’s safety. But community safety means more than just supporting our police and fire departments. It means expanding the courts, adding more robust prosecution, expanding dispatch, adding more jail options, and promoting community service resources to effectively deal with inappropriate and criminal behaviors. These behaviors are impacting our safety, damaging our property, and adversely impacting our quality of life. We must commit to the strong and ongoing enforcement of our laws to address this growing behavior problem, not just downtown, but in all our neighborhoods.
As Fire Chief, I worked side by side with city officials, and our agency administrators and I know they are ready to step up enforcement as the tools and resources supported by the new payroll tax come on line. I do not believe in ignoring or enabling criminal behavior. I believe we can exhibit compassion for those who have fallen into a desperate condition while maintaining strong enforcement for those who choose to behave illegally.
Like law enforcement, our community’s fire and emergency medical services system and hospital emergency departments are experiencing capacity issues attributed to an over utilization of the system for what should be provided through basic health care and a social services delivery system. It’s not uncommon for our hospitals to go on divert, which means ambulances are redirected to other hospitals because of capacity issues. Sparked by conversations occurring in our community and across our county, we have an opportunity to work with our partners and develop new and better ways to provide the care people need, while preserving our emergency system for urgent and emergent conditions. In addition, we need to continue our work as a city to reduce brush and ladder fuels in our south hills to reduce the threat and spread of wildfire.
In the past, Eugene neglected its infrastructure to the point of causing a $200 million backlog of potholes and broken streets. The voters have shown great trust by investing in road bonds to rebuild Eugene’s streets and I will continue to push to eliminate that backlog and keep our transportation system in good repair.
Climate Recovery, Accountable Government