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Shining light on the dark side of business as usual

Printed in the Eugene Weekly – July 25, 2019 written by Jacqueline McClure and Julie Hulme

It is time to shine the light on an egregious and shady deal on the banks of the Willamette River. Over the past 19 months, the Greenway Guardians have been organizing to prevent our local housing authority, Homes For Good Housing Agency (HFG), from privatizing a precious public resource located in the Willamette River Greenway.

An unprecedented number of community members have come together to show overwhelming support for affordable housing, the Willamette Greenway and local jobs by opposing the sale of a 3.59 acre public resource slated to be sold to private-out-of state developer, Evergreen Housing Development Group (EHDG).

In “Home is a Four Letter Word” (5/30), staff writer Henry Houston quotes HFG Executive Director Jacob Fox: “In the context of affordable housing, this idea that people can say, ‘we don’t want other people in our neighborhood’ for me is a slippery slope and is concerning.”

We are concerned with the slippery slope that Fox is sliding down in proclaiming a fictitious narrative on several key facts:

The insinuation is that neighbors do not want HFG to sell the River Road site, when the truth is we feel this iconic property is a win-win-win opportunity for the community. A portion of the property could be retained as public open-space for future generations, and a portion could be developed into affordable housing to serve the most vulnerable people of our community with local labor at the forefront of this development.

The illusion of HFG organizational transparency is quickly dispelled by a lack of a clear land-disposal policy, community outreach, and public process for public land. Neither Whiteaker Community Council nor River Road Community Organization was notified — both have submitted official letters of opposition.

There is a tradition of public money being used for public good. In this case, HFG (formerly HACSA) used public money to purchase land and is now poised to sell to a private out-of-state developer. HFG has been exempt from the property taxes for over 20 years, amounting to more than $55,000 in lost tax revenue.

The fictitious notion that the River Road site is unsuitable for affordable housing runs contrary to a reasonable person’s standard. This property is a prime location — close to amenities, parks, employment opportunities, several bus lines and the bike path.

There is an old tale of the site being located in a flood zone, thus making funding for affordable housing challenging. Previously the site was designated a 100-year flood zone. However, the potential buyer EHDG hired a surveyor, submitted data to FEMA and had the site re-designated out of the 100- and 500-year flood zones.

“The more housing the better” is a flight of fancy. EHDG says that rent at the future development would cost an average of $1,240 per month. Our community needs affordable housing not expensive market-rate apartments!

Stories change over time as evidenced by Fox’s statement, “I want to reinvest it in affordable housing.” In contrast, the 2015-2017 Homes for Good Housing Strategic Plan clearly states that proceeds from the sale will be used “to acquire a new administrative building …”

In an error of epic proportions, Fox  says, “It would be an extremely irresponsible decision” if the HFG board directed him to vacate the contract. There was an “extremely irresponsible decision” made June 28, 2018, when after enormous opposition, Fox decided to extend the sale contract for another 400 days. This would have been a perfect opportunity to terminate the proposed sale and instead initiate a public process for public land.

To be explicitly clear, the Greenway Guardians are not against the sale of the River Road property, the mission of HFG, or the good work their employees are doing to serve our community.

However, we cannot continue to sacrifice our planet and needs of the people of Lane County for the sake of corporate profit and political gain. We cannot continue to do business as usual! It’s time to shift the paradigm and rewrite our story. Let’s work together to create a legendary narrative — moving forward in collaboration with the community, HFG, and Lane County — for the best use of this public land for the greatest public good. Let the light shine!

Jacqueline McClure and Julie Hulme write on behalf of the Greenway Guardians, a local advocacy group committed to the Willamette Greenway, affordable housing and local jobs.

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