2007 Finalist
City of Eugene, Oregon
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In the late 1970s, the City of Eugene, Oregon, identified a lack of suitable land as the principal obstacle to affordable housing for its low-income residents. The city responded by purchasing various sites in areas across the city. The city then "banks" or reserves the land for future construction of affordable housing. Eugene has regained control over neighborhood development by preventing pockets of wholly low-income communities, and by ensuring that new housing be located near public schools, public transportation, and prospective places of employment. The Landbank creates continuous opportunities for local developers, who partake in a competitive bidding process for each site. This method enhances the quality of housing and resident services. A 2006 survey of Eugene's affordable housing occupant population reported that 73 percent of respondents were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their overall living situation.

In Eugene, three out of five very low-income renters (people earning under 50 percent of the Area Median Income) experience severe housing hardship, paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing. Without the support of the Landbank, conditions would be even worse. In fact, while the poverty rate is a sizable 18.7 percent, in Eugene poor families live all over the city, in reasonable conditions, and not in marginalized and neglected housing projects in undesirable neighborhoods.

By aggressively expanding a portfolio of potential housing sites ("buying low and buying everywhere," as one official calls it), the city has been able to pass on these savings to renters, without skimping on services or quality. Program planners created a set of qualitative thresholds for any site considered for purchase, including such factors as location related to services and jobs, cost, density, access to public transportation, and absence of negative environmental factors.

Since its first purchase in 1979, the Landbanking Program for Affordable Housing has acquired nearly 90 acres of land and earmarked it for the development of affordable housing. As of fall 2006, developers have built 510 affordable housing units for residents of Eugene. Between 2005 and 2009, the city will build an average of 100 additional units on Landbank sites to meet the needs of its 7,000 residents who qualify for the low-cost housing.

Related Topics