Council approved Housing Production Strategy in May; state approval was announced Sept. 20
By Craig Breon for Ashland.news
The next building block for Ashland’s housing future fell into place Sept. 20, when the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (OLDC) approved the city’s new Housing Production Strategy (HPS) — the first such approval in the state. The 167-page strategy actually contains 15 separate strategies, ranging from purely educational efforts to significant changes in codes and ordinances, as well as potential funding mechanisms to achieve affordability and equity goals.
According to the OLDC, Oregon needs to construct roughly 550,000 new housing units in the next two decades to make up for past shortfalls, meet projected population growth, and better address low- and moderate-income categories. Responding to this challenge, the state legislature, in 2019, passed House Bill 2003, mandating that all Oregon communities of more than 10,000 residents complete both a Housing Capacity Analysis (HCA) and a Housing Production Strategy. Ashland’s Housing Capacity Analysis was approved in 2021.
The state is also working toward breaking down housing needs by region and allocating housing targets to local governments. While state funding will be provided to help meet these targets, there may eventually be financial consequences for local governments that consistently fall short.
In her 2023 State of the City Address, Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham spoke at length about Ashland’s housing needs. She highlighted 89 new affordable housing units occupied by local families in 2022, as well as the city’s efforts toward approval of the Grand Terrace development, which would provide 230 apartments, including 38 low-income units.
The introduction to Ashland’s HPS document cites two decades of housing policies designed to meet multiple goals. Nonetheless, the document acknowledges, “the existing and future housing needs of the community still remain unmet.”
The HPS process, begun in January 2022, culminated with the Planning Commission unanimously recommending approval in April of this year and the City Council’s unanimous adoption in May. The HPS formed after extensive public participation, reaching out to homeowners, developers, renters, landowners, state and federal agencies and targeted populations, such as Southern Oregon University (SOU) students and the homeless.
Linda Reid, Ashland’s Housing Program Manager, described 2021’s Housing Capacity Analysis as detailing Ashland’s needs, while the Housing Production Strategy says, “How are we going to do this?” Reid manages Ashland’s small affordable housing program in addition to overseeing grant funding and shepherding planning processes such as the HPS.
Of the 15 HPS strategies, Reid says, “Some will be easy things to do, but each one has its own process. A code change can be a year-long process.”
Two of the 15 strategies are described as “ongoing.” Under “educational events,” Ashland’s Housing and Human Services Advisory Committee has hosted a variety of conversations on subjects such as educating renters and prospective renters as to their rights and responsibilities, SOU housing, and how landlords and landowners can learn about Ashland’s affordability programs and possible new efforts towards energy efficiency and other upgrades for existing housing.
Also ongoing are Ashland’s efforts to support “permanent supportive housing,” where eligibility is income-restricted and includes services to reduce chronic homelessness. Key to this strategy are nonprofit partners such as Opportunities for Housing, Resources & Assistance (OHRA, formerly Options for Helping Residents of Ashland), which converted the Super 8 Motel on Ashland Street into the OHRA Center, with more than 70 units of transitional housing and accompanying services.
Two more strategies are expected to kick off in 2024. As part of “develop(ing) an equitable housing plan,” the Planning Department will address state guidelines related to sectors of the community who may face additional housing barriers, such as people of color or those with disabilities. Nationwide, studies show that minorities often face discrimination in buying or selling houses and in mortgage lending. Addressing such issues could include, for example, including specific equity provisions in upcoming grant proposals.
Next year will also see efforts launched to preserve manufactured home parks while maintaining or enhancing their quality. Ashland has four manufactured home parks totaling 255 spaces. For decades now, few if any manufactured home parks have been built in Oregon while many have been closed — typically converted into market-rate housing. This trend grew so serious that the state stepped in to regulate closures. Since then, organizations dedicated to preservation efforts have seen some progress through resident-owned cooperatives and nonprofit ownership.
A longer timeline is expected for more complex efforts, such as establishing land trusts or land banks to handle dedications of funding or land from developers and others.
Changes in zoning and ordinances as well as taxes and other funding measures will likely face the tallest hurdles ahead. Establishing a construction excise tax is on the table, as is a multiple unit property tax exemption. Disallowing development of single-family homes in the High-Density R-3 Zone is proposed, as is allowing more residences in commercial and employment zones. Establishing an Urban Renewal Agency might be the heaviest lift on the list, given funding and staff limitations.
Email Ashland resident, lawyer and former environmental law instructor Craig Breon at firstname.lastname@example.org.