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Liberty Park housing project deserves support

The Medford Urban Renewal District, originally created decades ago in part to address blighted conditions in the city’s Liberty Park neighborhood, is finally getting around to doing what should have been done long ago: building truly affordable housing. The MURA board last week unanimously approved a 115-unit project just north of downtown that deserves to be funded and completed.

The need for affordable housing is greater now than ever, especially since the Labor Day fires of 2020 destroyed thousands of homes, many of them occupied by low-income residents. Even before the fires, rents had soared out of the reach of many tenants thanks to a vacancy rate near zero and a construction industry still struggling to come back from the Great Recession of 2009.

The proposed complex, a four-story structure with one-, two- and three-bedroom units, will be truly affordable, with rents of $750 for a one-bedroom, $867 for a two-bedroom and $997 for a three-bedroom apartment.

The project was originally envisioned as a 144-unit complex, but the demand for family-sized units has increased, so the complex is now planned to include fewer but larger apartments.

The project is designed to house those who earn 60% or less of the median income, or $41,000 a year for a family of four. That means subsidies are needed to make it financially feasible.

MURA will contribute the land and $4.2 million. State funding would add $12.5 million and federal assistance $20 million. The rest of the $48 million cost would come from a conventional bank loan.

The Medford City Council is expected to consider a property tax abatement for the property to help the developers get that loan. That should be an easy decision for the council, given the extreme shortage of housing in general and affordable housing in particular.

If all the financing pieces come together, construction could begin in about a year.

The complex would be built just north of the Les Schwab tire store on 3.5 acres, adding housing close to downtown on a bus line — both pluses for the city’s development plans and for future occupants.

This is just one complex. The need in the local housing market is clearly greater than 115 units, but this will help. Given the losses from the fires and the overall housing shortage, this project and others like it should qualify for state and federal funding. Local officials and state lawmakers should do everything they can to make that happen.