Offbeat Eugene, Oregon Draws Retirees With Its Stimulating Academic Vibe, Rich Cultural Fabric and Green, Lush Cityscape
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
When he first viewed Oregon's rich Willamette Valley, the future home of Eugene (population 175,000), 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 verdant landscape and proximity to both mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Along 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 (24,000 students) has on the city.
Thirty-four percent of locals are age 45 or better, and the majority of residents lean very much to the left politically. Forty percent of them have at least a four year college degree. The city has grown 12% within the last 10 years and has some racial diversity. The crime rate meets the national average, and the cost of living is 10% above the national average.
The median home price is $450,000, reflecting a 3% increase since last year. 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 apartment 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 has some 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 evident.
Oregon is somewhat tax-friendly when it comes to retirement. The state does not tax Social Security, but other retirement income, including 401(k)s and IRAs, is taxed at rates between 4.75% and 9.9%. A 9% tax credit is, however, available to people with an annual income less than $22,500 (or $45,000 for joint filers) and Social Security income of less than $7,500 (or $15,000 for joint filers). The state does not offer a homestead exemption, but residents age 62 or better may defer property taxes if their annual household income is less than $46,500. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Eugene is 1.04%. The annual taxes on a $450,000 home are approximately $4,680, without an exemption. The combined sales tax rate is 0%.
With the truly beautiful 295-acre University of Oregon at its core, Eugene embraces all things progressive. 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. It has even had members of the Communist Party on its city council.
The city is known as a "Great City of the Arts and Outdoors" and is home to 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 Shedd Institute. 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 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 a few miles down the road 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, cannabis dispensaries and eclectic shops dot the city, and small organic food stores are common in almost every neighborhood. Restaurants, from Chinese to vegetarian, are plentiful. Several vineyards and wineries are in and around town. Silvan Ridge Winery is one of the best and offers daily tastings.
With a location about 60 miles from the coast and about 60 miles from the Cascade Mountains, Eugene offers year round opportunities for hiking, camping, boating, bird watching, bicycling and more. 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 public and two 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 been named as one of the country's most beautiful hospitals. 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. People age 65 or better ride for free. Eugene Airport is served by Delta, United, American and more.
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 $110 to $200 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 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 - but not all - of this. The "anything goes" attitude, large number of college students and climate might not be everyone's cup of tea.
Yet, despite these drawbacks, Eugene's verdant landscape, quirky character and outstanding outdoor recreation entice many a retiree, proving that this "Emerald City" continues to sparkle.
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