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Directing development

The city of Ashland is seeking feedback from residents to help determine how it will disburse community development block grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development over the next five years — funds that, based on past years, could reach $875,000 or more.

A survey available on the city’s website (ashland.or.us) includes 57 questions, everything from “Public Services: Please rank the following needs in our community” to questions about affordable rental housing, rehabilitation assistance and ownership assistance for low-income families.

Those who want to fill out the survey can find it by going to the front page of the city’s website and clicking on “Engage Ashland” near the bottom of the page. The deadline to participate is 5 p.m. Feb. 28.

The responses will be used to help the city prioritize needs and produce a “consolidated plan,” which, according to Ashland housing program specialist Linda Reid, must then be posted online for public review.

“The important thing about this document is that it’s going to set out actual numerical values for what we want to do with the money,” Reid said. “So once we get all the feedback in, we are required to identify goals for each year. Like, ‘Our goal would be to develop five new units of affordable housing every year,’ would be an example of a goal. We probably won’t (reach) each goal every year, in fact there are some whole five-year periods where we are never going to meet a goal.”

That’s because some projects take longer than others to help Ashland reach its benchmarks.

“And it really depends on whatever they’re ready to do,” Reid said. “Affordable housing development is hard because it takes lots of money, and land and someone who can do it ... and those take a while to happen. So we don’t always see that come forward even though for many years — the past 15 years in fact — that has been our highest priority goal that’s identified through this process.”

The block grant funds can vary, Reid said. Ashland has received as much as $250,000 for one year, and once only $158,000. Last year, the city received $175,000.

Local service providers that have benefited from the community block grant include Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, Peace House, Ashland Emergency Food Bank and Ashland Supportive Housing and Community Outreach. Portions of the grant can also be awarded to nonlocal organizations that serve Ashland, such as the Housing Authority of Jackson County, ACCESS, NeighborWorks Umpqua, Rogue Retreat and La Clinica.

Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley, a Central Point-based nonprofit whose goal is to help the elderly “age in place,” was awarded block grant funds from the city of Ashland last year and used them, according to Deputy Director Howard Johnson, to complete 11 projects that cost $15,800.

“And we’ve already done four so far in 2020,” said Johnson, who founded the company, originally called Age-Friendly Innovators, with his wife, Sharon, in 2013. “And the process is pretty much, we go out and do an assessment of an individual and their home, identify what they need that will help them prevent falls — more often than not it’s grab bars in the bathroom but sometimes there are other needs, like step repairs, hand rails in various places and wheelchair ramps.”

The cap on any one project, explained Johnson, is $5,000, and sometimes it takes some creative thinking and partnerships with other local organizations. A walk-in shower, for instance, ended up barely coming in under that cap. On another project, the Ashland Lions Club volunteered some labor to help repair a roof that was leaking into an elderly woman’s bathroom.

“And then we can kind of maximize the total grant,” Johnson said.

Most of the questions in the survey ask responders to rate topics, such as “preservation of existing affordable rental units,” on a scale from 1 (very low need) to 5 (critical need). Preservation of existing affordable rental units had earned the strongest support from responders as of Thursday, with 56.8% rating it as a critical need.

Rental housing for low-income families was rated critical by 54.1% of responders, supportive services for homeless individuals sat at 50%. and supportive services for seniors was rated a high need by 47.2% of responders. Mental health care had also earned very strong support as of Thursday, with 50% of responders rating it as a high need, while 52.8% of responders ranked life skills training as a high need.

The survey also allows for additional comments. Regarding Ashland’s affordable rental housing needs, one responder wrote: “Any new construction MUST have 80%+ affordable (below market) rentals available. We have a housing shortage for poor, low-income and working poor folks. They deserve new, safe, quality housing they can afford. Income levels can’t be 3x rent the people who need to live here can’t afford it.”

The survey had 37 responses as of Friday.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Photo by Denise BarattaA homeless shelter client by the name of Susan unpacks her belongings with her cat Blue, in March of 2019 at the Presbyterian church in Ashland. As of noon Friday, half of responders to a city of Ashland survey had rated “Supportive services for homeless individuals” as a critical need. The survey, which will help determine the city’s spending priorities for community block grant funds, can be accessed at www.ashland.or.us.