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Growing rent burden concerns tenants and landlords alike

Solving a multifaceted economic issue disguised as a single problem left little time for tenants and landlords to reach consensus.

At a community discussion about rent burden Tuesday at the Medford library, locals shared with city of Medford staff a variety of ways to address a growing shortage of rental properties from the sides of both supply and demand.

A third of Jackson County’s renters are paying more than half of what they make on rent, according to Oregon Housing and Community Services numbers provided by Medford planning director Matt Brinkley.

Brinkley cited a trio of key factors behind that statistic: stagnant wages, rising rents and few vacancies on the rental market. After briefing an audience of roughly 40, the crowd broke into small groups to discuss the issue among property owners and tenants.

Multiple renters voiced their frustration at the limited choices that fit their budget.

Two West Medford women, who asked that only first names be used for fear of retribution by their landlord, described enduring disrepair that went beyond inconvenience.

Yvonne said her apartment building’s elevator remained broken for months, requiring her to take seven flights of stairs to her apartment.

The elevator has since been fixed, but Yvonne said the stairs triggered a heart attack.

Peggy, who said she’s also a renter in the same apartment building, said she fears getting a no-cause eviction.

“There’s nothing out there,” Peggy said.

In another group, a renter with a full-time job shared in a group the difficulty she faced finding a two-bedroom for less than $1,100 a month before settling in a “subpar” neighborhood.

“It’s discouraging,” she said.

A landlord said that rent burdened tenants — defined as tenants paying in excess of a third of their income on rent — affects him too. An eviction process costs landlords at least one month of unpaid rent.

A handful of renters suggested rent caps, which Medford city councilor Kay Brooks said “works in some places,” but “doesn’t work in other places.”

A man who described himself as a property owner called the discussion a “one-sided conversation.”

“It’s not the property owners that caused the problem,” he said.

Among members of a group was Oregon Sen. Alan DeBoer, who said during the meeting that although he’ll only be on the legislature through Jan. 13, he intends to keep working toward a solution that will alleviate low-income renters’ burden in a way that won’t hurt property owners.

“We need to solve it,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer’s proposed solution would give landowners the opportunity to sell properties to agencies such as the Housing Authority of Jackson County at a loss, then claim a tax deduction. The lower purchase price would lead to below-market rent prices for low-income tenants.

HAJC executive director Jason Elzy said the agency has built about 50 to 100 rental units a year for the past 15 years, but it’s facing skyrocketing construction costs.

Elzy described bids for a 50-unit apartment complex they put out two weeks ago.

“We saw numbers of $185 a square foot — that’s unheard of,” Elzy said, adding that when he first started $120 a foot could “easily” cover the costs of construction.

By next year they could surpass $200.

Demand for construction labor outstripping supply is one of the limiting factors leading to rising construction costs, according to Elzy, who said contractors are passing on their increased labor costs to the customer.

Other builders are pricing themselves in a way that factors in potential tariff costs to their bottom line.

“They’re expected to hold their prices for nine months to a year,” Elzy said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Planning director Matt Brinkley said Medford's greater than average proportion of renters makes rent burden a major concern. Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan