Written by Dan Bryant, SquareOne's Executive Director and Co-Founder
Serving the church for over 40 years, I have been long accustomed to the generosity of people. There is something tremendously fulfilling when one is able to use time, talent and treasures to benefit others who are struggling, have suffered some catastrophe or just haven’t enjoyed the same blessings and successes in life as others. Since we established SquareOne in 2012, I have seen a whole different level of generosity.
It began when we first announced that we could provide a very simple shelter for someone who was unhoused for $500. We were a bit optimistic and seriously underestimated some of the costs back then, but what we discovered was that there were large numbers of people who would say, “If I can give someone a safe place to sleep for $500, count me in.” Then we announced we could build a tiny home for $25,000 to provide permanent housing for people who had been unhoused (also a little optimistic and underpriced), once again a number of people stepped forward to make gifts of $25,000. I’ll never forget the mother who thanked us for that opportunity, making a gift in memory of her son who had struggled with his own housing before he was tragically killed in a work accident. And so one of our homes at Emerald Village Eugene was built in memory of Buddy Sawyer.
When we laid for our vision for Emerald Village in a fundraising letter at the end of 2014, again I’ll never forget that phone call from a local philanthropist who quizzed me for about 10-15 minutes and then said, “Put me down for six figures.” I think our largest gift up to that point was four figures. That was the first of many more similar gifts that have enabled us to build and expand our vision for new models of affordable housing. As a result, SquareOne is easing the burden of the cost of housing for many people that are increasingly priced out of the market. We began providing transitional shelter to 35 people at Opportunity Village in 2013. Today 39 households now have permanent, affordable housing in our three existing projects as a result of the generous support we have received from so many, a number that will more than double with our next project, Peace Village.
I am pleased to announce the latest major gift to SquareOne, only not in dollars, but in an
actual house, including an Accessory Dwelling Unit. Dianne Story Cunningham has been a supporter
of SquareOne for many years. She had a rental property on Walnut St. in Eugene that she
decided she no longer needed. In today’s market, it undoubtedly would have been a quick and easy sell. Dianne wasn’t interest in selling however, she wanted to put this asset to use in a way that she knew would provide for quality, affordable housing in perpetuity. The SquareOne Land Trust does precisely that.
What is intriguing about this particular property is that it is located next to the Walnut Street Co-op, a housing co-op where our Project Director, Andy Heben, first lived when he came to Eugene. SquareOne is in conversation with the co-op to explore the possibility of combining the two properties using our Community Land Trust/Limited Equity Co-op model (CLT/LEC) that we first pioneered with the C Street project in Springfield. In this model SquareOne owns the land as the CLT whereas the co-op owns the structures. This shared model of ownership has numerous benefits, providing residents with greater housing stability at a lower cost than other housing models. Because the co-op operates the housing, there is no landlord who can raise the rent by whatever the law or the market allows. Because the land is owned by SquareOne, it will be held in perpetuity per the by-laws of SquareOne for the purpose of affordable housing. In time, as housing costs rise due to market forces elsewhere, the housing cost of a CLT/LEC will only increase to meet actual expenses rather than to make a profit. Furthermore, members of the co-op own a piece of the structures, their “limited equity”, providing them with an asset which will appreciate at 3% APR. In almost every other affordable housing model, residents are renters, hold no asset and have very limited say in how their housing is managed. Whether we merge the two properties with the existing co-op or form a new one, SquareOne plans to turn this property into a CLT/LEC.
The neighborhood where this property is located consists primarily of single-family homes in the university district. However, in the past few years many of these formerly owner-occupied homes have been sold to profit-motivated investors who have converted them into student and short-term rentals, exacerbating the lack of affordable housing in the area. By adding the property to the SquareOne Land Trust, we will ensure that the existing housing remains affordable in perpetuity.
SquareOne is very appreciative of Dianne’s generosity and belief in our vision. If you have property that you would like to donate to further this vision, please give us a call!
Find more info about the SquareOne Community Land Trust at www.squareonevillages.org/landtrust