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Council doubles Maslow Project grant

The Ashland City Council unanimously approved Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Community Development Block Grant allocations to three organizations focused on affordable and emergency housing efforts in the valley — Maslow Project, Options for Helping Residents of Ashland and NeighborWorks Umpqua.

“We have just said that Black lives matter, and looking at minority needs are an important value of our City Council and city,” Councilor Stef Seffinger said. “Probably the people who are going to be helped most are those people that cannot get some of the funding from FEMA and other sources.”

The council doubled the requested allocation from Maslow Project to $60,000 after Executive Director Mary Ferrell delivered her presentation on emergent needs and a rapidly growing client base. The initial request was intended for COVID-19 response before the fires, which worsened an already dire situation for many families without employment, she said.

“We were already anticipating a potential 40% increase in the number of families and children who are experiencing homelessness in our valley,” Ferrell reported.

Within the city of Ashland, Maslow has identified at least 68 students in the district considered recently homeless, couch surfing or housed in unsecure situations, and the list of children and families needing help continues to grow.

The award will cover the cost of hotel rooms, while Maslow leverages other funding sources for staffing, materials and supplies.

With remote learning the new norm, the goal is to keep students connected to power and internet services, Ferrell said. Ongoing projects with Southern Oregon University to repurpose unused student housing and with the state to use abandoned properties for transitional housing may open up options down the road.

Last year, Maslow transitioned nearly 400 families from homelessness to permanent housing, before the Almeda fire undid their work.

“Unfortunately, some of those (clients) are homeless again due to the wildfires — the places we just got them housed in have burned back down,” Ferrell said.

Last year, Maslow spent $90,000 on emergency temporary housing alone without the economic impact of a global pandemic or disastrous fire. The organization’s caseload has grown by about 600 households so far with recent events. Those who needed help in a normal year are still out there too, she said.

A common theme among all three applicants has emerged: Depending on access to FEMA funds, families need to know where to look for a longer-term housing situation beyond a few nights in a hotel, Ferrell said.

Many Maslow clients were uninsured and/or low income families doubled-up in trailer parks — it could take several years for units to become available to accommodate that demographic, she said. Using a combination of funds, including the $60,000, a minimum of 20 families will be set for several months, she said.

“I went into that presentation hoping for part of our request and was not expecting to have our request be doubled,” Ferrell said. “There’s so much need right now. I didn’t expect that, but I’m just really touched by the thoughtfulness.”

Also among the award recipients, Brian Shelton-Kelley with NeighborWorks Umpqua received a $43,500 allocation for community land trust projects in Ashland.

The Roseburg-based company works in five counties of southwest Oregon with a rural focus on affordable housing development, management and ownership. Shelton-Kelley touted the community land trust model as a permanently affordable method of homeownership, by which a community organization or nonprofit acquires and holds lands for affordable home projects and leases.

In 2013, NeighborWorks took over control and stewardship of 30 community land trust units in Ashland. Using the grant funds and matched on-hand capital, Shelton-Kelley said, the group will be ready to secure site control in Ashland and submit applications to the state in the spring to fast-track affordable home ownership opportunities.

Councilor Julie Akins offered a hearty welcome to Shelton-Kelley and said, “Community land trusts are the future. I think that these other movements are necessary and important right now. We’re in a crisis and an emergency and we need to take care of people today, but what you’re talking about is taking care of people in the future and helping us with our extreme crisis in terms of a shortage of affordable housing. I’m delighted to have you here.”

Cass Sinclair, senior director of programs and services for Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, received the requested amount of $173,223 from the AHTF and CDBG to operate OHRA’s emergency winter shelter in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.

As COVID-related expenses stack up, Sinclair expects to tip far over OHRA’s typical annual budget.

OHRA leased the Calvin Hall space from Nov. 1 through March 31 to temporarily house 45 people per night for 151 nights. The operation will run this year without volunteer help; under overnight staff and case manager supervision only. Meals supplied by faith-based organizations will be individually prepackaged to avoid any congregate meals.

Minors are not permitted to stay at the shelter because OHRA’s low-barrier housing model does not exclude people with criminal histories or sex offender registry.

A portion of the fund will help to secure hotel rooms for people who need to be quarantined as well, Sinclair said.

The Housing and Human Services Commission recommended all three applications be approved in full Sept. 24, according to Ashland housing program specialist Linda Reid.

About $48,500 of the OHRA and all of the Maslow Project sum may be eligible for FEMA’s noncongregate shelter reimbursement at 75% — an option city staff will be looking to maximize, Reid said, depending on whether emergency declarations at the city and state level remain in place and FEMA funding availability.

Based on an idea presented by Councilor Tonya Graham, the council considered the idea of reinvesting reimbursed funds into the same projects for continued support while keeping some money left in both funds — an ongoing conversation as projects get underway.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

A bond measure is on the ballot May 19 to pay for renovations to Ashland City Hall. Tidings file photo