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Ashland initiates housing analysis

Real estate business growth graph. Arrow graph with house graph. 3d illustration

The city of Ashland has initiated development of a housing production strategy to identify and prioritize actions addressing housing needs, supported by a grant from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, according to senior planner Brandon Goldman.

ECONorthwest introduced the Ashland Housing Production Strategy project to the Planning Commission during a study session March 22.

“Where there are gaps is part of what the housing production strategy is looking to identify [and] actions that we can take to fill those gaps,” Goldman said.

ECONorthwest senior policy advisor Beth Goodman also worked as the primary researcher and author on the 2021-2041 Housing Capacity Analysis adopted by the city in August 2021, which provided a foundation regarding land availability and housing need for a variety of demographic groups, Goldman said.

The housing production strategy project — prioritizing action options over eight years — is slated for a nine-month development and initial reporting period, prior to presentations to the Planning and Housing & Human Services commissions and recommendations to the City Council for adoption, he said.

“A housing production strategy is an eight-year action plan,” Goodman said. “We look at all the strategies together and do an evaluation of whether they have achieved fair and equitable housing outcomes based on some requirements in the Oregon administrative rule.”

The housing capacity analysis showed that the city can accommodate expected growth over 20 years, while the housing production strategy might tackle challenges associated with annexation or rezoning, and will refine housing need, evaluate gaps in policy, identify strategies and evaluate fairness and equity, Goodman said.

“The answer was yes, you have enough land within the urban growth boundary, but you’ll need to annex some land from within the urbanizing area — the area between the city limits and the urban growth boundary,” she said.

In Ashland, a household earning below 50% median family income can afford about $920 per month in housing costs, she said.

“Can you think of a place that they can rent that’s not regulated, subsidized housing for a family of four for $920? My answer is, I don’t think so,” Goodman said. “Between 50% and 60% of median family income and 80% of median family income, that’s when you start getting market rate rents.”

A median sales price in Ashland of $550,000 is affordable for someone in the 180%-200% median family income bracket.

“You’re really looking at a housing market that is expensive and unaffordable at any of the levels we’re talking about,” Goodman said. “More than a third of your households have that income. ... The private housing market does not build housing that’s affordable there.”

Goodman said some of her colleagues have undertaken a study for the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department about system development charges across multiple cities, with the intention of scoping those costs relative to others.

Looking at needs by group, the housing production strategy will consider people experiencing homelessness, various ethnic groups, people older than 65 and those with disabilities. The project team will also consider intersectionality, such as a senior individual with a disability also experiencing homelessness, Goodman said.

A 2021 point-in-time count showed about 467 unsheltered homeless people in Jackson County and 364 people experiencing homelessness who were sheltered. Many households documented with incomes below 30% median family income are at risk for homelessness, Goodman said.

According to housing program specialist Linda Reid, the homeless population in Ashland averages about 10%-20% of the homeless population of Jackson County.

Countywide, Black households, American Indian and Alaska Native households, those of two or more ethnicities and Latino households all have incomes below the average, Goodman said.

“Some groups have lower incomes, so they’re going to have more housing need as a result of having lower incomes,” Goodman said. “It’s harder for them to get housing that’s affordable.”

The analysis is expected to flesh out the city’s role in housing development, such as setting public policy, zoning land, infrastructure and design requirements, balanced with market feasibility.

“In Ashland, I don’t think these housing market dynamics are working very well,” Goodman said. “If your housing market was working, then older housing would filter down, it would depreciate and become your housing stock that’s moderate, affordable housing. You’re not seeing as much of that filtering.”

The housing production strategy considers Ashland’s relationship to neighboring communities, how potential actions influence development, partnerships and resources from which the city could benefit, and fair outcomes for home ownership and renting to avoid gentrification and displacement, increase housing stability, provide options for homeless residents, and characterize issues based on housing location. City budget will impact feasible actions, Goodman said.

The project is slated to include interviews with developers and service providers, and community engagement through public meetings, open houses and online information. Goldman said he expects a draft report from ECONorthwest in February 2023 for consideration at ensuing public hearings.