Thought process for downtown housing proposal gets started

Affordable housing in downtown Medford would get a boost if the Jackson County Housing Authority pursues plans for a 50-unit apartment complex at Sixth and Grape streets.

College students and part-time workers would be among the potential residents for the new apartments, which are being proposed as part of a compromise over the controversial Cherry Creek housing project planned for Spring Street in east Medford.

"Not everybody is lucky enough to have high-paying wages out of the chute," said Jason Elzy, executive director of the Housing Authority.

Mayor Gary Wheeler has said low-income housing would complement other redevelopment projects and bring more people into downtown.

"This does some of the things we wanted to do in the downtown," he said.

At a recent City Council meeting, Medford resident Ron Norris, a former Medford Urban Renewal Agency board member, had a different opinion.

He said the Heart of Medford Association has been promoting a brand to attract people to the downtown, and he said the city is now dropping a "transient" family development into the mix.

"I believe a multifamily development is incompatible with the neighborhood," Norris said.

Housing Authority officials, however, believe the downtown project will be less likely to attract families with children than the proposed project on Spring Street, though families would be welcomed.

The agreement, reached last week between the Housing Authority, the city of Medford and neighbors, resolves an ongoing legal dispute over the proposed 100-unit Cherry Creek apartment complex on Spring Street.

Under the agreement, the Cherry Creek apartments would be reduced to 50 units and the Housing Authority would transfer 2.5 acres of the six-acre property to the city for a park and buffer between the complex and Spring Street. The Housing Authority would give $150,000 to the city for development costs for the transferred property.

In exchange, the city would swap a commercially zoned lot behind the Mail Tribune to the Housing Authority.

Plans for the site haven't been fleshed out, but would likely include a three- or four-story building that would house retail on the bottom floor and contain 50 units of low-income housing on the upper floors.

The downtown property currently contains a city parking lot and a restaurant, Bonsai Teriyaki and Sushi, which would be moved to make way for the development.

Before the agreement is finalized, the Housing Authority and city will appraise the two properties to make sure they are of equivalent value.

While anyone with the right qualifications could rent in the downtown location, the Housing Authority plans to make the Spring Street apartments more conducive to children, offering a basketball court, handball court, playground and community room.

Elzy, with the Housing Authority, said the idea is to create workforce housing in the downtown, something the Housing Authority currently doesn't offer.

The Housing Authority plans to work with businesses and city officials to create a design for the downtown apartment complex that has a more commercial and urban feel.

"It needs to be something that fits into the theme of the downtown," Elzy said. "We would like to know what the neighborhood thinks is architecturally aesthetic."

Shops on the ground floor, terraces or a courtyard are some of the options that will be discussed. Elzy said a roof-top area for residents could also be considered.

A family of four with a combined annual income of $35,100 — 60 percent of the area's media income — could qualify for the housing. A single person with an annual income of up to $24,600 could also qualify.

Elzy said rents are typically 10 to 20 percent below market rates at Housing Authority properties. Most units are in newer complexes or in buildings that have been upgraded, such as The Grand Hotel on Front Street.

The hotel, which has 24 rental units, offers housing to residents with very low incomes, ranging from 50 percent to zero percent of the median income.

According to the Housing Authority website, rents at the former hotel range from $500 to more than $600 depending on the size of the unit.

The downtown apartments will typically have one or two bedrooms. Like other modern apartments, both the downtown and Spring Street units would meet energy-efficiency standards and come equipped with appliances.

The Housing Authority could begin construction of the two-story Cherry Creek apartments by spring 2013. The project could cost about $10 million, with $2 million in financing and another $8 million from tax credits.

After the Housing Authority proceeds with the Cherry Creek development, it will turn its attention to the downtown project.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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