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Medford council looks to ease housing crisis

Medford’s shortage of affordable housing has been a much-discussed problem for years, but the Almeda fire has made it worse.

Roughly 75% of the 2,300 residences lost in the fire that raged through Phoenix, Talent and parts of Medford and Ashland were considered affordable, and many of the people who lost their accommodations have looked to Medford to relocate.

But Medford hasn’t been able to build enough affordable units in recent years to keep up with the demand even before the fires of Sept. 8, 2020.

These and other housing issues will be discussed Thursday by Medford City Council, particularly how to deal with the lack of housing for lower- and middle-income families.

The council will be presented with a number of options to spur development of affordable housing, including creating land trusts and using urban renewal to buy up blighted properties.

“Everyone on the council understands we have a housing issue,” said Kevin Stine, council vice president. “I want to do as much as we can to keep the people who want to stay here.”

Stine, who rents an apartment in Medford, said his grandmother typifies the need for affordable housing.

“People like my grandmother in Phoenix can live in a mobile home and live off Social Security and their retirement,” he said. His grandmother’s mobile home escaped damage from the fire.

The city has taken a number of steps to make it more attractive to build affordable housing in the city, but so far it hasn’t spurred enough development to keep up with demand.

Stine said the city has made grants available for low-income housing projects, made it easier to add rental units onto existing lots, and has taken other steps to encourage creation of cheaper rentals.

At the same time, house prices and rents continue to increase, pushing many of the existing units out of reach for low-income families.

About 43% of Medford renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, according to an analysis released by the city.

A median household income of $47,567 puts typical Medford houses that cost $300,000-plus out of range for many. Rents of $1,300 or so a month eat up a significant portion of a median income.

Medford’s population is 83,115, and it is forecast to reach 105,225 by 2040.

Prior to the Great Recession, Medford was adding about 800 new housing units a year. In recent years, the city has added only about 400 a year.

Matt Brinkley, Medford planning director, said the construction of multi-family homes in the city is either feast or famine depending on the year.

He said he some projects come along every once in a while that bring 100 or more units, such as the Stewart Meadows development.

“If we had 100 units being built every year, it would help our affordable housing issues,” Brinkley said.

Right now Columbia Care is building a 16-unit complex for veterans at Stewart and Columbus avenues, Brinkley said.

New homes are being built in Medford, but they typically cost at least $300,000.

For many families, that’s beyond their financial means, he said.

Brinkley said he’d be offering the council various options to make it easier for developers to build affordable housing.

He said staff have been looking at city-owned properties to see whether any of them would be suitable for a low- or middle-income housing project.

The city has and will continue to receive federal block grants to facilitate these types of projects, but the money comes with so many strings attached, it actually drives up the cost of the projects.

Another option is to create a community development foundation, similar to the parks foundation, to help raise money locally for these types of projects.

Brinkley said local companies might help with the trust to attract nurses, teachers and others.

A city land trust could be created as well to help developers offset the high cost of buying properties.

Under the land trust, the cost of land would be stripped out of the development costs. When someone sells the property, the land cost would not go up, only the housing.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency is looking at buying up more properties to help with blight to create potential affordable housing projects.

“We will be looking at creating additional urban renewal districts,” Brinkley said. “There isn’t a single solution to this issue.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Houses rise at Stewart Meadows in Medford last year. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune