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Housing Now plans demonstration around 'opulent homes'

A “Housing Now” demonstration that began in November 2020 to improve homeless services in Ashland will continue into mid-February with a mobile demonstration around some of Ashland’s most luxurious residences, according to lead organizer Eric Navickas.

The group wants the city to enact a “luxury tax” on houses larger than 2,500 square feet to fund services.

“We are planning a roving demonstration in two weeks where we tour Ashland’s most opulent homes with banners and photo equipment to bring light to the disparity and conspicuous consumption that exists in Ashland,” Navickas said Tuesday.

The planned demonstration comes weeks after Ashland City Council showed support for development of an urban campground to address the housing crisis, pending grant funding to lease land and operate the site through Rogue Retreat, which operates a similar campground among several options for homeless people in Medford. The idea resulted from discussions about how to best adapt to noncongregate shelter needs in the era of COVID-19, housing program specialist Linda Reid said during a Jan. 19 City Council meeting.

Reid said the grant application will be returned in mid to late February, and staff will continue to explore alternative plans for emergency shelter if the full amount is denied.

In addition to supporting the winter shelter operated by Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, the city typically hosts an inclement weather program in a dedicated space staffed by community volunteers, Reid said.

“This year, we knew that that model was going to be challenging,” Reid said. “The most difficult thing about the inclement weather shelter is having a space designated — it’s more so now with COVID because our options are reduced on which spaces are available.”

The Housing Now group has pushed the city to open the Hargadine Street parking structure as a temporary campsite equipped with HVAC, electricity and sufficient space for CDC-compliant physical distancing.

While Councilor Gina DuQuenne highlighted the importance of identifying a permanent space for a campground, beyond temporary fixes, city leadership maintained that physical space is only one component of the issue at hand.

“The site is critical, but it doesn’t rise above the funding that we need to operate it and the partner that we need to help us operate it ... the trick is pulling it all together, ” City Manager Pro Tem Adam Hanks said, adding that council must provide specificity regarding what sites city staff should identify for services and purposes.

In an email Tuesday, Navickas said a pledge signed by several councilors to not raise local taxes was an unfortunate roadblock to opening local revenue streams for homeless services and bolstering federal grants.

The pledge, offered to candidates during the last election cycle by Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability, holds signees accountable for reducing city spending by rejecting new taxes and fees, among other clauses.

“We have run into a problem with the mayor and council’s willingness to discuss progressive taxing options to fund homeless services,” Navickas said. “Pledges like this really hamper the ability of politicians to consider options that may even include budget cuts as well as tax increases.”

Housing Now applied for a grant to construct a sample Conestoga Hut — a popular transitional housing format elsewhere in the state, Navickas said, adding that the Hut project will proceed regardless of grant approval or denial. The group intends to erect the first structure on the Ashland Plaza, where tents, banners and demonstrators have brought attention to urgent housing needs over the winter.

Councilor Shaun Moran, who signed the ACES pledge, said Tuesday he would not support tax increases “until all streamlining, outsourcing opportunities and potential cost reductions have been explored and implemented.”

Moran said his perspective aligns with Ashland residents who are exhausted by substantial budget and utility bill increases over the past decade. The approved biennial budget offers resources, “we just need to make funding for improved homeless services a priority,” he said.

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

File PhotoThe Housing Now demonstration was staged previously at the intersection of East Main Street and Lithia Way.