Ashland puts land sale into housing

ASHLAND — It's not a big pot of gold, but the City Council acted Tuesday night to sell off three high-value parcels of view land on upper Strawberry Lane, dedicating most of the money — $1.2 million to $1.8 million, depending on sale price — to affordable housing.

The money will spur the city's search for affordable housing land or allow it to partner with a nonprofit or a developer to build or rehabilitate for affordable housing, said Councilwoman Alice Hardesty.

"It's a good sum, not a whole lot. We need a lot more than that," said Hardesty. "What we need is a stream of income and that's why we're working on the affordable housing trust fund. We need inclusionary zoning (mandatory low-income housing in developments) and a real estate transfer tax. We're the only state without one."

Bill Street, chairman of Ashland Housing Commission, agreed.

"It's not a lot of money, but it's a start, a seed. It's money that can be used to leverage affordable housing projects, such as Ashland's contribution, 4 percent to the homes on Siskiyou Boulevard, (erected by Rogue Valley Community Development Corp.)."

The city doesn't build houses, but it does buy land and can contract for construction of homes with deed restrictions requiring it to be sold only as affordable housing for long periods or forever, said city housing program specialist Brandon Goldman.

At $40,000 per unit for land costs, the city could use the money for 30 affordable homes, he said, to house moderate-income wage earners, such as police, firefighters and teachers.

If the city uses the money to back developments with a wide range of individual values, revenues from the higher-end homes could help pay for the affordable units and be rolled over for future land purchases, Goldman added.

The council's action declared the two-plus acres of land as surplus, allowing completion of a sale on a half-acre at $462,000 and freeing up two other parcels, a half acre and one acre, for eventual sale or trade. They're assessed at $375,000 and $580,000 but will be divided and sell for more, said city finance director Lee Tuneberg.

Money from the first sale must pay $215,000 to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for The Grove, an activity center next to City Hall, and $135,000 for land on upper Clay Street, part of a parcel the Parks Department bought last year. It will hold the park and five affordable, attached housing units, said Goldman.

At the council session, Councilman David Chapman faulted the city for avoiding its own subdivision regulations by waiting to divide parcels until it sold some off, thus never reaching a total of four lots, where subdivision rules — tree planting, fire suppression and other duties — kick in.

"Even though it's legal, the council's decision to circumvent subdivision regulations is a bad decision and it made a lot of people unhappy up there," he told the council.

Although he voted for it, Chapman noted he's the only council member who's "not convinced we should go into affordable housing. We should look at it (the money from land sales) and see if it should go to a higher need. I don't see it as entirely the city's responsibility to provide it."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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