The Keizer City Council will re-examine the scuttling of a caretaker program at Keizer Rapids Park after new renter protections appear to complicate plans to turn a home into a city-owned rental property.

An issue that arose at a Keizer Parks Advisory Board meeting rocketed to the top of the Keizer City Council’s agenda six days later. 

Members of the Parks Board recommended the council reassess a decision to turn a caretaker’s home in Keizer Rapids Park into a rental home. The choice to end the caretaker program didn’t sit well with Richard Walsh, a former city councilor and attorney, who warned the council against getting involved with a renter given recent action in the Oregon Legislature to enact protections against evictions. 

“There’s four named reasons to kick somebody out … It’s like firing a city employee. It’s a big process,” Walsh told the council. However, Walsh said, a park caretaker or host would be exempt from those eviction protections. 

The reasons landlords can evict under the new protections include: plans to demolish a unit and convert it to non-residential use; planning to repair an unsafe property; the landlords’ family plans to agreement to sell the property to someone else who plans “in good faith” to live there. 

Instead, Walsh said, the city should restore the caretaker program at the park that ended last year.  

That proposal met with some skepticism from the council, including Mayor Cathy Clark, as well as City Manager Chris Eppley. 

“We have to have clear expectations about what a [park] host can and can’t do. My other concern is that the house is vacant and I’m not comfortable with that. If it means getting a renter in there so the house is occupied, that is important,” Clark said. 

If the caretaker position was reinstated, Eppley said forgiving the $1,500 monthly rent in exchange for providing hosting or maintenance duties didn’t amount to much equivalent labor, “about two hours a day. And we can’t expect them to be there sun-up to sundown.”

Numerous neighbors of Keizer Rapids Park and the leadership of the West Keizer Neighborhood Association (WKNA) turned out to support the idea. WKNA voted unanimously to support the reinstating of a caretaker at its meeting last week.

The council requested that city staff bring back a report on the pros and cons of both renting and reviving the caretaker position. 

Original intent

As the city assembled the various properties that became Keizer Rapids more than 15 years ago, it two homes remained on the park property. One known as the Charge House and the second known as the Buchanan House. The Charge House remained occupied by members of the Charge family until their death. The Buchanan House had another purpose from the outset, said Walsh. 

“A lot of people and organizations have invested a lot into that park and the Buchanan House is in view of virtually all of them,” said Walsh. 

In the city’s parks master plan, the Buchanan House is designated as a home for a park caretaker. 

For many of the neighbors, having a caretaker residing in the park alleviated some concerns. 

“This is important to the neighborhood to feel that there is somebody at the park who can feel out the place when the police department can’t,” said Rhonda Rich at the city council meeting, Rich is a nearby resident to the park. 

“I think it benefitted the community,” added Garry Whalen. 

While the city supported the caretaker role for more than a decade, it was a source of consternation from the get-go. The city solicited applications for the caretaker position and the Keizer Volunteer Coordinating Committee vetted the applicants. In the end, a longtime employee of the city was selected as the ideal candidate. 

There were no public complaints about his service but, given the dual roles, there were questions about the propriety of the process, how the caretakers hours should be tracked and whether they should be incorporated in assessment of his overall performance.

“The initial reason the host was put into place was to put a face to the project as it was developed. It really morphed into a labor relationship,” said Eppley. 

Given those concerns, the council opted to end the caretaker position last year with the notion of renting the home to someone else and funneling the rental revenue back into the maintenance of the park. 

Rental worries

The greater concern that arose out of the city council meeting was turning the Buchanan House into a rental property, particularly given recent changes enacted by the Oregon Legislature aimed at protecting renters.

Councilor Elizabeth Smith, a branch manager for home loan business, said she made calls to some of the property managers she works with for their take on the rental scene. 

“All said don’t get involved in the landlord stuff right now. I think we need a little more information before making that kind of decision,” Smith said. 

She was backed by Councilor Dan Kohler who said experiences with his parents’ rental properties made him wary of treading down that path. 

City Attorney Shannon Johnson said, “I do have some concerns, but not enough for it to be a gamechanger [regarding rental].”