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Ashland seeks housing solutions during rent burden forum

A group of people sit in chairs in a conference room. There's a panel of people sitting behind a table in front. Next to them, a man is holding a mic and pointing at a projector screen, speaking to the audience in front of him.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
City of Ashland Long Range Planner Brandon Goldman presents the city's housing strategies at the annual rent burden forum

Ashland residents brought concerns and solutions to a recent forum focused on the local housing crisis.

Home prices throughout Oregon have risen in recent years, but the Ashland housing market has seen a dramatic spike.

At $549,900, the average home price is 25% more than what someone would pay in Phoenix, the next most expensive city in the Rogue Valley, according to the city's median home sale price data from November 2021 to January 2022.

Jacksonville was the most expensive home market, but Ashland city staff mention that homes sell less frequently in Jacksonville, which can skew the data.

Over half of Ashland residents earn less than the median income for Jackson County.

“There’s this assumption that Ashland folks are affluent,” says Ashland Housing and Human Services Commissioner Echo Fields. “That’s really not true. And that’s one thing that I think comes out of meetings like this, is that kind of reality check of what we’re facing.”

Almost half of Ashland residents also live in cost-burdened households, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on their housing, whether they rent or own their home. That number jumps up to 63% when looking solely at the number of renters who are rent-burdened.

Median home sale price data from November 2021 to January 2022
City of Ashland
Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service
Median home sale price data from November 2021 to January 2022

Ashland is currently developing a housing strategy to outline what the city can do over the next eight years to create more affordable housing.

Fields says barriers include the city’s hilly perimeter which makes it harder to build more homes.

“We need to do some things, I think, like expand what’s called our urban growth boundary,” she says. “We’re probably gonna need to do some more actual annexation. That’s extremely politically difficult. But without that we simply will not get the new housing stock that we need.”

The city is asking residents to fill out a community survey to identify the biggest priorities to deal with the housing crisis. Fields says input could help win over city council members to support politically challenging proposals.

The city is considering offering more financial incentives and relaxing zoning laws to create more affordable housing, Fields says.

Other Ashland residents spoke in support of the city’s three mobile home parks. Cynthia Dettman is part of the Committee to Protect Ashland’s Mobile Home Parks.

She says under Oregon Law, mobile home owners are given just one-year’s notice if a park is being sold or closed, and residents are paid a maximum of $9,000 as compensation.

Dettman says that payment is not enough – as most “mobile” homes aren’t actually mobile – and will be abandoned if a park is closed, costing owners hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Not only is it an issue of rent and affordability,” Dettman says. “But it’s also an opportunity for low-income people to own homes. So the mobile home parks represent low-income home ownership.”

Dettman says the city should adopt protections for mobile home parks similar to a Portland ordinance passed in 2018. That ordinance re-zones mobile home parks to be designated specifically for manufactured dwelling park use. Dettman says that would make it harder for developers to close a park and build something else in its place.

Fields says it’s difficult for the commission to identify and advocate for solutions without also having members who are younger.

“We need the voices of people who are in that younger age bracket, who have families, who cannot find places to live in Ashland,” Fields says.

She expects several spaces on the commission to open in the near future and encourages younger residents to apply to help guide the housing plan.

The community survey closes on October 14th. City staff expect to adopt the housing production strategy plan by the end of the year.

Updated: August 29, 2022 at 9:22 AM PDT
This story has been updated to clarify information surrounding median home prices in the Rogue Valley.
After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.