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Remodeling the city’s housing policy

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It’s been nearly 30 years since the city of Ashland last updated the housing part of its comprehensive plan, which sets forth long-range policies and provides guidance for a community’s growth and development over time. A city committee has been working on an update and has assembled a draft of what’s known as the “housing element,” which the council agreed Monday should undergo further review in public hearings in coming weeks and months before the Housing and Human Services and Planning commissions, likely leading to further modifications before coming back to the council for formal adoption.

Questions addressed in the plan include, why is the housing and rental market so inflated in Ashland? Is it because housing policies and standards for the city are outdated and do not reflect current numbers and demographics? Or maybe because the infill strategy the city decided to implement makes it more challenging for development of affordable housing?

According to Linda Reid, housing program specialist, the last time the housing element was updated was in 1989.

“The current document contains language which is really limited to the specific time period in which it was written,” Reid said. “And it is not reflective or responsive to changing conditions over time.”

According to a document prepared by Reid, the city’s comprehensive plan must be consistent with the state’s planning goals.

“Goal 10 of the Statewide Planning goals specifies that each city must plan for and accommodate all needed housing types,” the staff report reads. “The state requires each city to inventory its buildable residential lands, project future housing needs, and provide the appropriate types and amounts of land within the urban growth boundary necessary to meet those needs.”

The state requires Oregon cities to allow for a 20-year supply of buildable land to accommodate population growth, but the city decided long ago not to expand its urban growth boundary to protect valuable farm lands. This means that the supply of buildable land must come from infill, which adds to the cost of creating affordable housing.

In reference to a chart showing the levels of income compared to housing costs from 1970-2010 in the updated draft, the draft states:

“The value of homes in Ashland has been increasing at a rate that has been dramatically greater than rate of increase for median incomes in the Ashland area: whereas the median home value was less than twice the median income in 1970, median home value represents nearly 10 times the annual median income three decades later.”

According to the update for rental units to be considered within the financial means of tenants, the cost of the unit should not exceed more than 30 percent of the tenant’s gross income. If it does exceed that percentage, then the tenant is considered “cost burdened.”

According to this same chart and study, “If the historic rates of increase for both home values and rental amounts continue to increase at a rate greater than that of incomes, housing cost burden for all populations will continue to rise.”

The report states that an increasing portion of Ashland citizens does not earn enough to afford a median valued home and therefore more residents fall into the rental market. A very competitive market drives young families, the working class, disabled and elderly, which generally have lower incomes, away from the city.

“Given changes in demographics, and housing market conditions since the Housing Element adoption in 1989, the draft policies included in the revised element newly reference the Climate Energy Action Plan, the need to provide universal housing accessible to elderly and disabled residents, fair housing, and more directly addresses the need for affordable housing within the community,” the staff report reads.

Reid said a number of city commission meetings and community outreach, including public forums, discussions and online questionnaires, influenced these revisions.

“Much of the feedback used through that process was used to shape and refine the document,” Reid said.

The council requested that the draft be brought back to another study session before scheduling a public hearing at a regular business meeting of the council.

On a similar note, Brandon Goldman, senior planner, then gave a brief presentation alongside Josh LaBombard, southern Oregon regional representative for the Department of Land Conservation and Development.

They also discussed the housing issue, but on a regional scale. Their presentation included the housing strategy for the regional problem solving group.

“Essentially, the region was discussing, ‘how do we address problems related to future population growth when the region doubles in population?’” Goldman said.

LaBombard said when the counties still conducted population forecasts, they found that a doubling of the population would occur within 50 years.

“We’re seeing it to be now, maybe a little optimistic, so the land that was selected to accommodate the doubling of the population might last longer than 50 years,” LaBombard said.

Participating communities in the regional plan include Eagle Point, Central Point, Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford.

“The Ashland City Council requested the regional plan identify and structure a time line for the implementation of a variety of regional strategies that encourage a full range of housing types throughout the region,” Goldman said.

LaBombard said that EcoNorthwest, an economic consulting firm, was hired to put together a general tool kit for the region, then they specified their recommendations for individual communities.

“What we decided was that the most effective way to do this was to put together a tool kit of financial and regulatory measures that help housing in general and affordable housing in particular,” LaBombard said.

The suggested policies stem from two main focuses: increasing concentration of housing to improve the efficiency of residential land use and to increase affordable housing development opportunity.

The next steps are for the council to look at the subsequent elements and to adopt the regional housing strategies, as well as solidify any code amendments to use as a base reference point, Goldman said.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

The city of Ashland's population is only expected to grow about 13 percent over the next 40 years, according to a chart included in a city staff report.
Ashland Community Development Director Bill Molnar