Creative Thinking about Workforce Housing in Ashland – Julie Akins

Affordable Housing–How can Ashland create it?

I get asked often how Ashland can make its housing more affordable. While community members, employers and developers want housing that does not cost more than a third of working people’s income, it still hasn’t happened.

Is that because it can’t?

My answer: It absolutely can!

Here’s how: Calculate what working families in Ashland make on average and aim for housing at that price point.

Tax Rates for Ashland

– The Income Tax Rate for Ashland is 9.0%. The US average is 4.6%.

Income and Salaries for Ashland

– The average income of an Ashland resident is $29,658 a year. The US average is $28,555 a year.

  • The Median household income of an Ashland resident is $43,500 a year. The US average is $53,482 a year.

Given those numbers we have to start making sense on housing prices. For a person making roughly $29,658 per year needs a rent or mortgage at $823.833 per year. If this person is fortunate to live with another person and hit the median of  $43,500 per year their shared rent has to be $1,208.33 per month.

How many homes are at that price? The answer is simple: not nearly enough.

So How do we fix this problem?

  1. Expand our Affordable Housing Trust:

We have an established trust. A percentage of dollars from the sale of cannabis goes into that account. It sits at roughly $100,000 annually. The current city leadership has not added to it. A big reason for having a trust is to receive matching grants. Let’s get this done through matching funds at the state and federal level and let’s also reach out to private fund managers and make this happen.

2) Provide Incentives:

We absolutely can use city owned land to build affordable housing through public/private partnerships. If we offer the land at low or no cost to builders with the guarantee of homes indexed to the real income of residents, builders will be able to afford to create housing. Land costs, especially in Ashland make it prohibitive.

Tax breaks and substantial breaks in SDC’s (system development charges are the costs to hook into city services like electric, water and sewer) for builders and landlords who guarantee at least 30% of housing indexed to real income for work force housing.

Fast Track permitting:  Nearly anyone who has tried to build in the City of Ashland knows how long it takes and the volumes of paperwork required. Let’s place a reasonableness standard to this. When it can take years to do in Ashland what takes months in Talent–we’ve got a serious problem.

Inclusionary Zoning: This has become a no brainer for Ashland. The State of Oregon recently passed measures which instruct cities to allow multi family homes in neighborhoods formerly zoned as single family homes only. Now of course this needs to be done with care and match the neighborhood standards. But allowing on street parking in some cases or parking behind structures, allowing additional houses with full kitchens and in neighborhoods where it works allowing duplex, triplex and apartment buildings will help.

3) Specific Bond Measures:

This one stings right now given that we as residents were recently asked to spend millions on a new city hall and a mega jail we didn’t want. But that’s quite different than spending money to house ourselves and our neighbors. A bond which is funded through elections could add to your cost of living in Ashland as a home owner but it may also make our city more livable for you, me and our workforce. Bringing families back to town with living wage jobs and affordable housing lifts us all up. I could see residents being interested in a Useful Bond as opposed to the extravagant bonds we voted against.

4) Revitalize neighborhoods through Non Governmental Partnerships:

Cities across the country are partnering with non profit organizations, philanthropists and large scale employers to build homes in areas where they didn’t exist or have been abandoned or allowed to fall into disrepair. In Ashland, Southern Oregon University owns numerous abandoned homes and structures that they can’t afford to repair. Why not have the City of Ashland coordinate between these groups, incentivize repair and purchase and put skin in the game from the Affordable Trust to repair these buildings and have them managed by Options for Helping Residents of Ashland (OHRA) and also Rogue Retreat. Both do this as their mission.

Why hasn’t this already happened?

The answer to this question is equally simple, it’s hasn’t happened because the city’s current management either lacks the knowledge, imagination or will. We can change that on Tuesday, November 3.