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Build it because they’re coming

Medford must add at least 8,668 new houses to keep up with growth over the next 20 years, while boosting its stock of smaller units for older people and the growing Hispanic population.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneNew homes are under construction on Ingram Lane in Medford on Wednesday.

That amounts to 443 new houses a year, slightly more than the current average of about 400.

“We definitely have a huge need for all types of housing,” said Matt Brinkley, Medford planning director. “One thing we’d like to see grow is smaller multifamily products.”

Based on projections from Portland State University, the city is developing strategies to encourage certain types of development that are in relatively short supply, such as apartments and smaller units that are becoming increasingly popular with the older people who are looking to downsize.

The university study will be updated next year, and city officials are expecting it will show an even greater need for housing over the next 20 years.

Medford has room to grow and expanded its boundaries in 2018. Because of this expansion, land around Centennial Golf Course is destined for a number of housing projects totaling more than 1,400 units.

Brinkley said one encouraging sign is a number of pre-applications the city has received for up to 700 multifamily projects, which includes apartments, triplexes and duplexes.

“We haven’t had a sizable multifamily project since Stewart Meadows a couple of years ago,” Brinkley said. Stewart Meadows is located in south Medford between Stewart Avenue and Garfield Street across Highway 99 from Walmart.

“We need to be producing 200 multifamily houses a year,” Brinkley said. The city has seen an inconsistent pace of multifamily projects, sometimes around 100 a year, and occasionally as much as 150.

Brinkley said he’s particularly impressed with a small development known as The Cottages at Woodrow Lane in east Medford.

The developer demolished two dilapidated single-family homes on two quarter-acre lots and has created eight cottages of around 1,100 square feet with either one- or two-car garages.

Brinkley said these smaller types of units could encourage older residents to get out of larger homes and free them up for younger families.

Apartment complexes are also needed for those starting out in life.

One of the last really big apartment complexes, known as Charles Point in south Medford, has more than 500 units and was built more than a decade ago.

“That project alone provided almost a 10-year production of multifamily units,” Brinkley said.

But the demand for apartments has only increased since then, so Brinkley said his department is looking at other ways to encourage more of them.

The city could consider providing additional economic incentives to encourage that type of housing. For instance, the city could provide sewer infrastructure to help a project pencil out.

Tax abatements are another possibility to encourage higher density.

The city collects up to $400,000 a year from a construction excise tax. Brinkley said the city could raise the tax to a rate comparable to Bend’s to help provide economic incentives for multifamily projects.

The city will continue seeking Community Development Block Grants that are used to encourage affordable housing.

Brinkley said he’s also working with the Medford Urban Renewal Agency to develop ideas for higher density housing in the downtown area.

An accessory dwelling unit program, which allows smaller units behind existing houses, seems to be gathering steam.

Brinkley said he expects up to 40 of those smaller dwelling units to be built over the next 18 months within the city.

New construction typically pays system development charges up front on a project. These charges that help pay for upgrades to sewers, streets and other infrastructure can be deferred until a developer actually sells the unit.

Brinkley said the city could offer more of these referrals to encourage higher density projects.

On Thursday, some of these potential strategies to encourage development in Medford will be presented to the City Council for review.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.