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Neighborhoods grapple with poverty

Poverty rates in some residential pockets near downtown Medford are as high as 50 percent, while the city averages a 23 percent poverty rate, considerably above the national average of 15.8 percent, a study prepared for the city found.

Along with that, the study reports that about half the houses in Medford are rentals, compared with the national average of 36 percent and statewide rate of 39 percent. Some downtown areas have as much as 80 percent rentals among residential units.

“Medford has fairly high poverty levels — higher than the state or national average,” said James Gilleylen, president of J-QUAD Planning Group of Addison, Texas. “Home ownership is typically lower than the national average.”

These and other sobering statistics confronted the City Council last week as it looked at ways to stimulate the local economy over the next five years.

“Our numbers are unfortunately higher than the national average,” Councilor Kevin Stine said.

J-QUAD prepared a demographic analysis of the city, which is required before Medford officials can get approval for federal grants to improve the community.

Medford’s overall poverty rate has improved, dropping from 25 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2013, according to J-QUAD’s data and the U.S. Census. But poverty pockets in some of the neighborhoods around the downtown remain stubbornly high.

Gilleylen presented information to the council showing an overlap in areas confronted with high unemployment, high poverty and low rates of home ownership. Not surprisingly, neighborhoods clustered near the downtown area had low income levels as well.

Generally, areas of low home ownership had the largest number of houses built before 1980, some of which had plumbing problems, inadequate kitchens and often were overcrowded, according to the J-QUAD analysis. These older homes also are more likely to have exposed lead-based paint, which can be harmful to young children.

By comparison, areas east Medford and southwest Medford had higher rates of home ownership and lower rates of poverty. These areas also had higher incomes as well as a better educated population.

The council will be looking for ways to improve the local economy over the next five years, possibly including job training programs, technical assistance to small businesses and small business loans.

A limited survey of Medford residents conducted by J-QUAD found that those responding thought the biggest priority for the city was providing better community service outreach, particularly for domestic violence and domestic abuse.

Other areas identified included services for seniors and youths, health and transportation. The survey found residents also wanted economic stimulus, improved community facilities and programs for the homeless. 

Unlike other communities in the U.S. with high poverty rates, Medford’s streets are generally in good condition and most housing doesn’t look run down, Stine said.

“There doesn’t appear to be that many bad-looking situations,” he said.

Medford’s lack of high-paying jobs is a problem shared by many communities throughout the country, said Stine, a new council member who grew up in a low-income family and joined the Navy to escape poverty.

“Even if you created 1,000 service or entry-level jobs, it doesn’t decrease poverty levels,” he said.

One of the suggestions to help the community that piqued Stine’s interest was providing child care to low-income families.

“Child care eats up a good portion of your income,” he said.

Stine said he was disappointed that only 128 residents responded to a survey sent out by J-SQUAD to find out what local residents would like to see improved in Medford.

Councilors were somewhat confused by the study because it used sets of data that didn’t offer comparisons with other communities. However, most councilors generally agreed with the overall conclusions.

Councilor Eli Matthews said he, too, was disappointed that more people didn’t participate in the survey, which will help craft the council’s decisions on how to spend limited federal dollars.

Also, Matthews said, the council learned that the amount of money coming from the federal government to help communities is shrinking each year.

“We have many needs and limited money,” he said.

Matthews, who lives in west Medford, said he had previously heard many of the points raised, except for the high number of rentals in the city.

“That was one of the big shocks for me,” he said.

Stine, who lives in an apartment in west Medford, said he wasn’t surprised by the numbers, and based on his observations of his own neighborhood he wasn’t surprised at the low home ownership rate.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

A 'For Rent' sign is displayed in front of the Ish Ranch Estates on McAndrews Road in Medford. A larger-than-average percentage of Medford residents rent rather than own their homes. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch