Ashland council approves affordable housing rules

ASHLAND — The City Council has modified Ashland's affordable housing rules to ensure the units are built with quality materials and don't stand out from market-rate homes.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to make the changes that were recommended by city staff, the planning commission and the housing commission.

Ashland requires developers who want land to be annexed into the city to set aside a portion of the acreage for affordable housing. Developers can build the housing themselves or transfer the land with water, sewer and other improvements to a government agency or nonprofit group that builds housing.

Previously, the rules allowed a developer to target only one income group, such as very-low, low or medium income, for the affordable housing units. Now the affordable units can be for a mix of very-low to medium income groups.

The affordable homes also must be similar in style and materials to market-rate homes in a development.

"This was an effort to make sure they don't stand out from the rest of the units," said Brandon Goldman, an Ashland city planner.

The affordable units must have features comparable to market-rate houses, such as energy efficient appliances and windows. The units must be distributed around a development, rather than segregated in one area.

The rule changes do allow for exceptions. For example, if the affordable housing is intended for disabled people or senior citizens who would benefit from living close to each other, the dwelling units can be concentrated.

Councilman Russ Silbiger voted for the changes, but he expressed concern that the city had not analyzed how the new rules might increase the cost of affordable housing.

"How do we know if we're costing ourselves out of affordable housing altogether?" he asked.

Another rule change prevents developers from building all the affordable units only after they have built all the market-rate units. They can, however, build half of the market rate homes first to earn money to finance the affordable housing units.

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