Ashland Workforce Housing Needs More Work

Ashland is becoming “Aspen-ized” warned Housing Commissioner Alice Hardesty at Thursday night’s forum on Workforce Housing. To the gathered crowd this was no surprise. It was a decade ago that teachers, firemen and police officers were being priced out of the community. Now it is hard to find city administrators willing to move here.

“Housing has been at the root of all we’ve been doing.” states Melissa Mitchell-Hooge of Save Our Schools and Playgrounds, who helped sponsor the workforce housing forum. Pointing out that it is not just a problem for low-income households, but a problem for the whole community. The widespread inability of young families to find housing in Ashland has resulted in declining school populations and school closures. And, in spite of all best intentions, the housing situation continues to get worse.

As it stands, the current median home price in Ashland is $439,900 (up from $277,742 in 2001). Land is gobbled up for development, sale, redevelopment and resale. For the average family of 4 (with a median income of $52,900), the prices are too much. Ashland loses economic diversity as owners and renters get squeezed out.

Ashland is a community that prides itself on its diversity and livability. Unfortunately now most can no longer afford Ashland’s success. The cost of housing has consistently outpaced wage increases and has reached the point where median income families can’t afford a home in Ashland.

This Workforce Housing forum is the latest in the continuing saga to maintain some affordable housing in a market that struggles with inflated market costs and stagnant wages. “Workforce Housing” is the latest PC label for those with incomes below the median, but not eligible for subsidized housing programs. It is a term more neutral that “affordable” and less suspicious than “low-income”.

Local efforts for stable housing began in 1990 with the formation of the Affordable Housing Committee mandated with preserving the diversity and character of the community. Even then it was clear then that if trends continued we would see a loss in the community. The last decade has shown that there are no quick and easy fixes. Over the years, various efforts have been made but with limited success. Despite all good intentions, the housing demand far outnumbers the number of units built, and it is reasonable to assume that this trend will continue. Now more than ever is a time for new ideas, dynamic thinking and folks willing to “stand up”.

In February 2006, the region hosted a first ever Southern Oregon Workforce Housing Summit in Medford. Participants from Jackson, Josephine and Curry counties representing both public and private sectors met with major regional employers and reviewed the latest extensive research. Thursday’s forum followed a similar format, tackling serious questions as to how we can improve access and affordability, what the public sector can do, what employers can do and where the money might come from.

It is the hope of the housing commission, the city and all involved that a working strategy might come out of all this. Develop real goals and a vision of what Ashland will look like 10-20 years from now. Give real authority to make changes to those with the will to see it happen. Build the social capital and develop the informal networks that can get things done.

View more at Rogue IMC…

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