Offbeat and Mellow, Eugene, Oregon Draws Retirees With Its Leafy Neighborhoods, Rich Cultural Scene, University Vibe and Liberal Outlook
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
When he first viewed Oregon's rich Willamette Valley, the future home of Eugene (population 165,000), New Yorker Eugene Skinner wrote to his sister, "I have found Paradise." And today, the area is still regarded by many as "Paradise," thanks to its lush landscape and proximity to both mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Located on the Willamette River 110 miles south of Portland, growing Eugene is nicknamed "The Emerald City," but it was first known as Skinner's Mud Hole. The first college here was Columbia College, but after it burned down, town leaders raised funds to start a public university and the University of Oregon (UO) was founded in 1872. Today it is hard to overstate the influence that the University (population 25,000) has on the city.
Thirty-four percent of locals are age 45 or better, and the majority of residents lean to the left politically. Forty percent of them have at least a four year college degree. The city has grown by 45% within the last 10 to 15 years, and its crime rate is below the national average. The cost of living is 10% above the national average.
The median home price is $250,000. Leafy neighborhoods have residences in all shapes and styles, from bungalows and ranch ramblers to condominiums and manufactured homes. Many properties are in the hills that surround the city on three sides. Gainsborough is a nice gated 55+ manufactured home community. The median monthly apartment rent is $995, although the rental market is tight, thanks to students and a 97% occupancy rate.
As in most cities, certain areas are nicer (and safer) than others. In Eugene, Whiteaker and West Eugene are best avoided. The downtown is full of funky shops but also transients and homeless people. Areas north of the river are more conservative than areas south and west of the river where the University is located and the college atmosphere is most strongly felt.
Unfortunately, Oregon is not a tax-friendly state when it comes to retirement. Social Security is not taxed, but other retirement income is taxed (although a 9% credit is available). Federal retirees, including military personnel, may be able to subtract some or all of their federal pension income. Residents may also deduct up to $6,250 in federal income taxes from their Oregon tax return. The state does not offer a homestead exemption, but residents age 62 or better may defer property taxes if their annual income is less than $43,000. The annual taxes on a $250,000 home are roughly $2,223.
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With the truly beautiful 250-acre University of Oregon at its core, Eugene embraces all things left-leaning. The city is a little grungy and a little funky, home to hippies, tie-dyed shirts, Birkenstocks and other visible vestiges of the 1960s. It has a deep tolerance for "alternative" lifestyles and a strong interest in environmentalism, and it has even had members of the Communist Party on its city council.
The city ranks highly when it comes to the arts, outdoor recreation and cultural diversity. Indeed, Eugene is known as a "Great City of the Arts and Outdoors." It is the home of the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, renowned for its acoustical perfection, where operas, ballets and symphonies are performed year round. The Oregon Festival of American Music takes place every August, and the internationally known Oregon Bach Festival features a wide range of concerts at the University's Beall Concert Hall. Performances feature the music of Bach, Brahms, Mozart, as well the music of 20th- and 21st-century artists. Older adults are eligible for discount ticket rates, and the Festival's Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) program blends concerts with lectures and workshops. The city also has excellent museums, including the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
Fairs and markets are plentiful, too. The Oregon Country Fair, held in late July, is a combination of outdoor musical festival and renaissance crafts fair. The outdoor Saturday Market features arts and crafts, food booths and music. Held each weekend from April to mid-November, it is a good place to shop for fun craft items and is the oldest weekly open-air crafts festival in the country.
Coffeehouses, pubs, microbreweries and eclectic shops dot the city, and small organic food stores are common in almost every neighborhood. Restaurants, from Chinese to vegetarian, are plentiful. Wine tasting is always fun, and there are several vineyards and wineries within a short drive of town limits. Hinman Vineyards is one of the best and offers daily tastings.
Located 60 miles from the coast and about 60 miles from the Cascade Mountains, year round opportunities for hiking, camping, boating, bird watching, bicycling and more abound. Residents also enjoy Kentucky Falls, 45 miles west of the city, which boasts three waterfalls. The Rogue River is a great spot for whitewater rafting, and Willamette Pass Ski Area and Hoodoo Ski Area to the east are winter favorites. Golfers enjoy eight courses, six open to the public and two that are private. Sports fans love to cheer on the mighty University of Oregon Ducks.
Eugene is also ranked as one of the top 10 bicycling towns in the U.S., with an extensive network of cycling and walking trails throughout the city (there are 28 miles of off-street paths and 78 miles of on-street bicycle lanes). The off-street paths are built along the Willamette River and meander through lush parks and gardens.
PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center is the primary health care facility and has been named one of the best hospitals in Oregon. It has also won 12 consecutive consumer choice awards. Its accreditation comes from DNV Healthcare, a relatively new accreditation organization, and it houses the Gerontology Institute, a program that specializes in medicine for the more mature set. For military retirees, Eugene has a VA outpatient clinic, but the nearest VA hospital is in Roseburg, 60 miles away.
The Lane Transit District (LTD) is the local bus system. The regular fare is $1.75, but people age 65 or better ride for free. Eugene Airport is served by Delta, United, American and other airlines.
Eugene may be a college town, but it has a solid senior support system. The Campbell Community Center offers field trips, meals, social activities, classes, volunteer opportunities, referrals to other community resources and much more. The Area Agency on Aging and Disability Services for Lane County manages the Senior and Disabled Services (S&DS) and offers senior meals and in-home care.
The University of Oregon is also a wonderful resource for retirees. It has a continuing education program, and its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI-OU) is targeted to the 55+ demographic. The semi-annual or annual fee is $75 to $130 and allows access to classes, lectures and events. Many regular classes can be audited for no charge. Lane Community College also has a continuing education department with personal enrichment classes. People age 65 or better taking eight or fewer credits may receive a tuition waiver.
Residents enjoy three beautiful short seasons and one long, mostly rainy winter, which lasts from November to at least April. Temperatures are moderate with summer temperatures in the high 70s and mid 80s, and winter temperatures in the 30s and 40s. On average, the area receives 45 inches of rain and five inches of snow per year. On the comfort scale, a combination of temperature and humidity, Eugene comes in above the national average. The sun shines 140 days of the year.
There are drawbacks to retirement in Eugene. The air quality is well below the national average, and people with allergies or asthma may have a difficult time here. The poverty rate is slightly above the national average, but the large student population accounts for much of this. The "anything goes" attitude and the number of college students may be too much for some people. And, of course, the weather is not everyone's cup of tea.
Yet, despite these drawbacks, Eugene's verdant landscape and liberal ambiance entice many a retiree. Anyone seeking a growing city with a liberal outlook, a love of the arts and outstanding outdoor recreation will feel right at home in Oregon's "Emerald City."
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