On Housing and Implementation: Part II
Tackling short-term and transitional housing in the City of Florence
Dec. 5, 2022 — “Do not provide anything for the homeless but a bus ticket to Eugene,” one respondent to the recent City of Florence Housing Implementation Plan (HIP) Open House survey wrote when asked of their opinions on homelessness. “Anything you give them will only make the situation worse and more of them will come here. Keep Florence nice. It's one of the last good places.”
Wrote another, “We need short-term emergency, transitional and affordable housing options for our growing homeless population. Housed residents are becoming homeless due to rent increases- working families & elderly.”
Others saw different reasons for housing instability.
“I have known multiple people (including myself) who have been evicted from their homes when they were great tenants, solely for the purpose of turning it into a vacation rental,” one respondent wrote. “We need housing for the people who live here, not tourists.”
But there were multiple arguments for short-term rentals.
“Florence does not have nearly enough hotel rooms. Florence can remain a tourist based ‘City in Motion’ or the city can go ahead and kill the Golden Goose,” another comment read.
The responses, which were all anonymous, were a part of a survey that was open from Sept. 29 through Oct. 17, the goal of which is to help the City of Florence better understand the community’s housing conditions and needs. Results will also help “inform which housing implementation strategies the city may pursue” in the future, per a report on the survey that was presented during a Nov. 8 open house.
In conclusion of our two-part series on the survey, Siuslaw News looks at two main topics in the survey, transitional housing and short-term rentals, both of which have special subcommittees in HIP to look at possible code changes, partnerships, and other solutions.
“Many residents have concerns about homelessness,” read the report, which found 86% of respondents calling it either a “major issue” (38.35%), or an “issue” (47.82%).
One respondent commented that police would remove unsheltered people from a city they previously lived in, continuing, “I liked that. Homeless people and druggies cause crime in towns — Get rid of them.”
“I will raise the fact that well off people REALLY HATE people who are unhoused and unfairly make them to be terrible people," another comment read.
In searching to define homelessness, along with the causes, the responses showed a variety of opinions, with one commentator stating homelessness includes, "...folks living in an RV who cannot afford to park in an RV park and are forced to be itinerant, parking anywhere they can get away with.”
“Houseless here have family and coworkers living in one house together to help,” another response read. “We have a FULL HOUSE and ALL would be in a rental and are on waiting lists and all have income. All work/school here.”
The impacts of homelessness were also a common theme, with one respondent stating, “Drug use impacts stability/housing and housing impacts drug use. Must recognize the drug problem in Florence — it is horrible in some areas especially.”
Yet another response looked at the downward spiral that can occur when faced with criminal charges that are common for the unhoused.
“Justice impacted individuals are a highly disadvantaged social group when it comes to obtaining/maintaining housing and gainful employment opportunities,” one comment read.
There were multiple calls for more help with programs addressing these issues — “We need to find and/or build facilities with professional help for addictions and mental health. Without these facilities, homelessness will deplete the quality of life for citizens.”
“People of disadvantaged social groups feel like there is no point in participating in programs because there are too many constraints and hoops to jump through in order to move forward,” another response read. “Consequently this leads to more failed programs.”
As to what the community should do, opinion was split.
“A bold move to house the homeless would bring a lot of positive attention to our town,” one comment read, while another stated, “If Florence encourages homelessness by providing housing, more homeless will arrive.”
While there’s multiple services in the region that assist the unhoused, from Helping Hands to Siuslaw Outreach Services, there are currently two programs strictly dedicated to sheltering.
The Florence Emergency Cold Weather Shelter, which consists of small, individual units that are open to everyone in need, and First Step, a transitional housing program that provides long-term housing for a limited number of individuals, as well as services transition clients back into housing.
HIP has been focused on the latter, and 71.5% of respondents believed the city should allow these services, with some supporting their expansion and creating new partnerships with programs like Eugene’s Opportunity Village.
“No need to reinvent the wheel. Find the best partner for the best solution,” was a common response.
But respondents said programs should be limited, with 62.02% either “strongly agreeing” or “agreeing” that the city should put a cap on the number, though what the number would be was not surveyed.
There was also agreement on placing requirements on amenities the programs offer: 64% wanted landscaping and screening requirements, while over 50% wanted storage facilities, common areas, and parking.
“It should be a space designed to protect people's dignity — Not treat them like cattle, not reinforce to them that people who are struggling are unwelcome and in the way,” one response read.
As to what types of shelters should be offered, 67.9% believed “tiny homes” should be built, with some respondents seeing an opportunity to create self-sustaining communities.
“We could be known for tiny home communities and foster alternative material home communities and even create jobs around both,” one response read. “This could create both year-round tourism in learning about our communities and create sustainable jobs that could be exported.”
53.85% advocated for apartment complexes, with some respondents advocating for renovating abandoned structures in the area for services. Temporary structures, such as mobile homes, garnered less support with 39.9%.
But there were contradictions on exactly where transitional housing should be located. The majority of respondents agreed that transitional housing should be within a certain distance of essential city services, with 21.63 “strongly agreeing” and 36.06 “agreeing.”
“Any area that is close to transit, employment opportunities, and/or services like groceries, libraries, medical facilities,” one comment read.
But many of these services, such as the library, are in residential areas, which respondents roundly rejected as a possible location. When asked to rate which zone transitional housing should be located, only 26.44% said “any residential zone,” while “low-density,” “medium-density” and “high-density” residential zones received approval under 20%. Currently, Florence City Code has a ban in all transitional housing in residential areas.
“Institutional or office zones” gained 38.46%, while “commercial zones” received 45.67%.
No zone received majority support, and some commentators felt that there should be no zoning requirements at all.
“By putting people in specific places you make people stigmatized — not cool,” another read. “You make them less valuable to society and further push good community members away.”
Short-Term Rentals (STR)
“Short-term rentals are an important part of the mix of housing for a tourism economy, but they have driven up housing prices and created scarcity for people who live and work in this region,” one respondent wrote about their concerns over STR.
The city currently does not have regulations regarding STR, which the survey defined as “any dwelling unit used for human occupancy for less than 30 consecutive days,” and did not include hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts and boarding houses. Instead, the definition focuses on rentals that go through outlets like AirBnB or Vrbo, which has put some stress on the rental market.
“People are turning living spaces into STR and it kicks out (seen it happen several times this year already) long standing good community who now can't afford to live here and can't find a few places to live. I am afraid EVERYDAY of this happening to me,” one person wrote.
“Changes in availability of housing” was the number one concern of respondents over STR, with 58.5% ranking it as their first concern, and 14.29% calling it their second biggest concern. “Changes in housing costs and/or home values” was the second biggest concern at 40.82%.
But many respondents linked STRs to the overall health of Florence’s economy, with one saying they allow “more tourists and their spending dollars in town — this helps promote businesses and welcomes tourism, and creates more jobs in these fields.”
For others, STRs helped with a perceived shortage of hotels in the area during peak times.
“I appreciate having STRs in our community for friends and family to stay when they visit,” one comment read. “When it's not available here, we have to meet somewhere else. But I also know a lot of people are disrespectful with their use.”
While concern for noise, trash and traffic related to STRs were generally ranked toward the bottom of concerns, there were occasional remarks of “terrible” tenants.
Above all, respondents believed STR needed to be regulated.
Over 70% agreed that the City of Florence should require business licenses for STR, as well as property inspections.
When asked, “Should short term rentals be held to different operational standards, such as parking and noise,” over 60% agreed. And if any STR broke any rules, over 80% agreed they should be subject to fines and penalties.
Yet while 72% of respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that limits should be placed on the number of STR, they were split on how to actually do that.
When asked to rank preferences, 34.07% ranked limiting by a fluctuating “percentage of the total housing units” as their first choice, while 31.85% said a fixed “total number inside city limits.”
However Florence decides to proceed, some respondents stressed caution:
“Short-term rentals are high-risk properties with significant cost to maintain,” one response read. “City government needs to better understand the nature of that market before it starts attempting to draft regulations.”
“In almost every instance where the government has attempted to ‘fix’ a societal ill it has failed, and most often has made conditions worse,” wrote one person when asked what the city should do to help with housing. “Government social engineering has proven to be hugely expensive while failing to achieve their stated goals.”
On the other hand, one comment stated that the isolated retirement community of Florence presented unique challenges, and “Government has to be involved — private industry can't do it all.”
A report provided at the end of the survey by Johnson Economics and MIG/APG, who have been creating reports and surveys for HIP, listed a number of strategies the city could incorporate.
On land supply strategies, high priority was given to the city investing in future annexations of lands in its Urban Growth Boundary, including areas north and east of current city limits.
“These might be areas near current corridors or infrastructure, and those areas where future zoning will create neighborhoods that best meet the City’s housing goals,” the report read.
At medium priority, rezoning current land within city limits was listed, which would involve looking at commercial, industrial or institutional zones to free up areas of housing.
Updating city code to support housing types, a strategy HIP is currently looking at, was a medium priority, while “creating a program to inspect and remedy substandard housing” was listed as high.
“The city currently lacks a code to define unsafe or unhealthy housing,” the survey reported. “A code and inspection program could be developed to help upgrade the quality of local existing housing. Most examples of these programs include only rental housing.”
On the topics of “financial incentives” and “housing funding sources,” a host of possible strategies were listed.
A general obligation bond, where direct funding for construction and other capital costs associated with building housing, could be put up for a vote. Or an excise tax on new construction could be instituted by the city, with proceeds also being set aside for projects.
Other strategies looked at making development easier, such as “reductions in property taxes” for certain types of affordable housing, including “full or partial exemptions.” Deferring payments to the city on development fees for a period of time was also suggested, as was redirecting existing taxes, such as funds in the Florence Urban Renewal agency, to housing.
Making permitting for residential or mixed-use projects was considered a high priority, which HIP is currently reviewing.
Finally, “Programs and Partnerships” had a variety of strategies, from strengthening current partnerships with local programs, federal subsidized affordable housing programs like HUD, and education and financial assistance programs through nonprofits.
Over the coming months, HIP will be reviewing the survey results, combining them with additional research and presenting their findings to the public.
To follow the progress of HIP and sign up for updates, or learn more about HIP, visit www.ci.florence.or.us/planning/housing-implementation-plan-project. View the survey results at www.ci.florence.or.us/sites/default/files/fileattachments/housing_advisory_committee/page/25064/hip_sat_4_packet.pdf.