ashland.news
June 13, 2024

‘Big Ideas: Tackling the Affordable Housing Shortage’ (Part 2 of 2)

Brandon Goldman, Director of the Ashland Community Development Department, answers a question while state Rep. Pam Marsh looks on. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
January 10, 2024

Community Development Director: ‘(Ashland) was an affordable place to live’

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Ashland Community Development Director Brandon Goldman moved to the Southern Oregon mountain town more than 30 years ago to attend Southern Oregon University because, he recalls, “it was an affordable place to live.”

Was is the operative word — and that change is what prompted many to turn out Thursday, Jan. 4, for a housing forum at the Ashland Public Library. Goldman’s anecdote drew light laughter, maybe even nostalgia for a much different time from those attending the first “Big Ideas” series presentation of 2024, which centered around “Tackling the Affordable Housing Shortage.” Lectures are jointly sponsored by the Ashland Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Jackson County Library Services.

“I was able to acquire a studio for $160 a month,” Goldman said to about 85 attendees. “Those days are long gone, but it actually indicates that as a person looking to go to a university, this was an affordable community to come to, go to school here, get a job and continue to work in the community. So that’s a luxury at this point that many people aren’t afforded.”

Oh, how times have changed. 

Goldman detailed housing demographics for Ashland as well as local housing production strategies, expanding on hurdles faced by those from a variety of income levels seeking housing.

Goldman said he would like to see housing models modified so that they are more readily available for anyone wishing to relocate to Ashland, as well as those who, Goldman said, “are being displaced out of Ashland as we speak.”

He shared statistics that help shape the context of the current housing marketing locally, as well as evolving housing production strategies.

Brandon Goldman, Director of the Ashland Community Development Department, presented a number of housing statistics at the AAUW Big Ideas session Tuesday. He said that 75 percent of Ashland households are comprised of just 1 or 2 people and only 20 percent of households have children present. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Ashland population growing slower than expected

“Ashland recently did a two-year effort to identify a number of strategies that we could address locally — and, I will note, every jurisdiction is going to have different strategies,” Goldman said.

“Ashland is essentially a slow-growth community,” Goldman added. “We’re growing at less than 1% a year in terms of population, and that can be seen as either a result of high housing costs — people are choosing not to move here — and, as such, our population growth is not as rapid as it was anticipated back in 1989 when we projected that by the year 2060, we’d be at 30,000 people.” 

Now, projections provided by Portland State University indicate that Ashland will only be home to about 25,000 people by 2072. 

“So that shows with our current population of just over 22,000 — it’s a very slow growth indeed,” he said.

“What is evident is that the number of people per household in Ashland has been dropping year over year,” Goldman added. “So the majority of households are either one or two-person households. We’ve got a situation in which three-fourths of all households either have one or two people.”

That means more households are needed to accommodate the same number of people.

“By merit of our number of people per household dropping, when I started with the city, I believe it was 2.6 people per household — we’re down to 1.92 I believe,” he said. “So in just a couple decades, we are getting to the point where we need more housing to accommodate the same number of people.

“Additionally, only one-fifth of households currently have children present,” he added, “and this has direct implications in terms of the school district.”

Brandon Goldman, Director of the Ashland Community Development Department, explained that the city has 15 strategies to increase housing production. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
More older folks, fewer kids

Goldman said he would like to see more families be able to rent and/or purchase housing “that’s within their means” in Ashland. 

“The age demographic shift is evident in the community, just in the last 20 years,” Goldman said. “The number of people 60-plus has gone from 18% of our population to 31%, so that’s a significant shift and it’s also part of why you’re seeing a reduction in the age cohorts that are families with children.”

Goldman said if individuals are paying more than 50% of their income for housing, they’re considered severely cost-burdened and the same is true for rental owners.

“You can see that people that make less than $75,000 a year, between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, 25% of those are cost-burdened,” Goldman said, pointing toward a slide.

Individuals making $20,000 per year are severely cost-burdened, he said.

“That means those individuals are paying more every month than they can afford, and so the work of nonprofit organizations … that have been working to address this disparity, but it is difficult to overcome market forces as rents continue to increase,” Goldman said. “When we look specifically at Ashland’s income demographics, this chart here shows that 19% of our population is that extremely low income.” 

Goldman referenced a comment made by state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, that individuals making up to 120% of median income are still cost-burdened.

“Half the people in the high income bracket of the 120% median income or above are also cost-burdened by housing costs in this town,” Goldman said. 

The median income in Ashland, as well as the state and Jackson County, has been very gradually increasing — essentially stagnant at the same level for a number of years, Goldman said.

Audience members asked questions after presentations from state Rep. Pam Marsh and Ashland Director of Community Development Brandon Goldman. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Housing costs rising faster than incomes

“Somebody making $80,000 a year, having a 20% down payment, getting a loan at 5% a year, both of which are difficult in these days, but they could afford a house that’s $362,000,” Goldman  said. “But the median price for a home in Ashland as of 2022 was $565,000. So this gap is what is pricing people out of our community and so there’s a couple ways to address that, just intuitively: Increase incomes. We’re largely a service-sector economy. There are good jobs in this area, but not to the degree that the entire population can get those.”

Goldman said if interest rates fell below 5%, that would increase purchasing power.

“But really the cost of housing is one area that can be addressed,” he said.

“We talk about numbers and housing units, we’re really talking about people, who have jobs and are looking for a place to live,” Goldman said.

 Goldman said the largest hurdles are experienced at the bottom of the income spectrum.

“That is an issue in terms of how do you have a continuum of housing that addresses not just people at the higher income levels, but people at the lower income levels,” he said.

The AAUW Big Ideas session on Ashland’s affordable housing shortage drew a capacity crowd to the meeting room at the Ashland Public Library Tuesday afternoon. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Homelessness numbers up

“The homelessness I think is a direct reflection of the increasing housing costs on the West Coast. It’s not the only factor, it’s a complex socio-economic issue. And there’s a variety of reasons in which people fall into homelessness … The correlation with housing is pretty clear.”

“Where we have high cost in housing, that affordability gap in terms of rent often outpaces the wages that are available within this community, and that widens the gap between income and housing costs, means more people spend a higher proportion of their income on housing.

Also with limited housing options, there’s greater competitions for the units that are available. That drives up prices.”

Goldman said market-value rents are continuing to escalate faster than wages, even as there have been attempts by the state to implement what he describes as “rent control” or a cap on how much rents can increase.

Competition for available units are high, and the barriers even higher for those facing homelessness.

“Being in a position where you may not have first (month’s rent), last (month’s rent), deposit, to compete on an equal footing with individuals — getting that first hurdle is one thing, but again you’re then facing that housing market in which these units are not priced at an amount that you can afford long term. And that’s what we’re trying to address, is these issues in the long term.”

Big Ideas
The Big Idea Series continues with a presentation entitled “Get to Know BASE (Black Alliance & Social Empowerment)” led by Sabrina Prud’homme at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 6, at the Ashland Public Library.

“The whole idea is to get people together and talk about important issues and share ideas and learn something you might not have known before,” said Marilyn Hawkins of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Ashland branch. “And politely or firmly disagree with someone who doesn’t hold the same views you do.”

“And yes, men can join the organization,” she added. “Five or 10% of the organization nationwide are men, it’s not solely of one gender.”

Ashland and Medford have experienced a 132% increase in people experiencing homelessness since 2017, Goldman said.

“So when you see that there’s a perception of the increased amount of homelessness on the street, it’s true,” Goldman said. “There are more people that are sleeping in their cars, more people that are sleeping on the street than ever before.”

Goldman sees a need for a long-term solution to homelessness by addressing affordability and accessibility of housing and assisting individuals to transition to permanent self-sufficiency or permanent supportive housing.

Fixed income plus rising housing cost equals lost shelter

Goldman noted that one of the demographics of people who are becoming homeless are women over the age of 60.

“You have people that purchased housing on a set mortgage or they’re in a rental, they have a fixed income,” Goldman said. “They were able to maintain that for years.

“Not being in the workforce any longer in that context, people really have no choice in moving to homelessness. We are seeing that this is one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population.”

A housing needs analysis looked at income demographics, population growth and growth of various job sectors within the Ashland area, Goldman said, as well as the housing production over the past 20 years, to try to project how much housing is needed moving forward over the next two decades.

Goldman said there’s a need for multi-family housing going forward to make up for a lack of it being built over the last 20 years.

“Twenty units on 1 acre is far more cost-effective than 20 units on 20 acres,” he said. “And so, in order to accommodate multifamilies, we’ll likely be in a position to increase densities.”

In housing production strategies, Goldman encourages production of lower and moderate income housing. He encourages the development of low- and moderate-income housing.

“We did identify 15 strategies to be undertaken over an eight-year period,” Goldman said.

“A couple that come to mind are maintaining the quality and support of manufactured housing parks.”

Audience members asked questions after presentations from state Rep. Pam Marsh and Ashland Director of Community Development Brandon Goldman. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Land trust can lower housing cost

“Another strategy on the list that I want to talk to you a little bit about is the development of a community land trust,” he added.

The trust is a model for affordable housing in which nonprofit organizations form and purchase land with the help of a government subsidy.

“Units are built upon that and then those units are sold to affordable housing residents and the land value is taken out of the equation,” Goldman said. “And by doing so, then the purchaser of the home is really only purchasing the building itself. So there’s one method by which from the outside, it still looks like any single home development or cottage housing development … 

but paperwork under it, the legal framework is such that it secures affordability for typically a 99-year period, in which somebody can buy a home and resell it at an affordable rate for the next person.”

“There is currently a group that is looking at forming a land trust in Ashland,” Goldman added. 

Goldman previously served on a volunteer board of directors for a city land trust.

“We were fortunate enough to do 19 units of affordability, and those 19 units remain affordable today and have been for probably 20 years and will be for another 80,” he said. “It is a model that works, but it’s only a small piece of the puzzle when you talk about 140,000 units that are needed. We really are looking at driving down construction costs (and) increasing development capacity of existing land areas.”

A question and answer session followed Goldman’s presentation.

One local woman asked whether Ashland was seeking federal funding for affordable housing.

“Ashland is, I believe, the smallest Community Development Block Grant Entitlement community in the country,” he said. “So it’s typically communities that are 100,000-plus. Ashland is fortunate because we were linked in the Medford-Ashland metropolitan service area so we do receive community development block grants. We receive about $173,000 a year.

“It’s important leverage to add to a project, but in terms of having a big pool of funds that could develop a project from the ground up is probably more in the line of developers that are looking at applying through the state of Oregon for low income housing tax credits.”

“There are federal funds,” he added. “I would argue not enough. Again I think we’ll continue to explore getting those whenever that opportunity arises.”

For more information, contact the Community Development Department at 541-488-5305 or email Building@ashland.or.us or Planning@ashland.or.us

Reach Ashland.news staff reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Related story: ‘Big Ideas: Tackling the Affordable Housing Shortage’ (Part 1 of 2)

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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