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Motel conversions an ideal way to provide housing

Survivors of the 2020 fires are moving into 84 new studio apartments on Riverside Avenue. The units were not built from the ground up but were converted from motel rooms. The project is the first of four aging motels being repurposed as apartments, addressing two problems at the same time.

The Rogue Valley had a severe shortage of rental housing even before the fires. A vacancy rate near zero and the slow recovery from the Great Recession pushed rents higher than many could afford, and new construction had not yet put much of a dent in the supply of apartments.

Remodeling what had become run-down motels is an ideal way to address the need quickly and at a lower cost than new construction. Multiple new motels have sprouted at both ends of town just off Interstate 5, rendering the older motels near the center of town increasingly obsolete.

The first of these projects, which has transformed the former America’s Best Value Inn into an apartment complex called The Jackson, offers studio units with a bedroom, sitting area, kitchenette and full-size bathroom. They are small, but functional and up-to-date.

The project is a private-public partnership involving the city, the nonprofit organization Rogue Community Health and Fortify Holdings, a private company that owns the building and three other motels. Eventually, Fortify will have added 500 apartment units to the local housing supply when all four motels have been repurposed.

At the same time, the nonprofit Rogue Retreat is converting another motel into housing units, initially for fire survivors but then as transitional housing for people who were previously homeless.

Medford is at the forefront of this new concept in housing, which could be applied in many Oregon communities suffering from a shortage of rental units. State Rep. Pam Marsh, whose district was devastated by the Almeda fire, calls it “brilliant,” a way to get new housing faster with less of an investment.

There aren’t enough aging motels to meet all the need for new housing, and the units are not big enough for families. But they are a great way to add to the valley’s housing stock at a reasonable cost. We could use more outside-the-box thinking like this to address the housing crisis.