Commission OKs plans for more affordable housing

The city of Ashland will start looking for developers and partners to build more affordable housing projects as soon as January 2018.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a part of the city’s mid-term housing programs strategies, has a budget of $166,000 this fiscal year. Its primary purpose is to create a diversity of housing types that allows low- to moderate-income families in Ashland to pay no more 30 percent of their gross household income on housing.

The Housing and Human Services Commission met Thursday night to finalize its recommendation of the project, including potential projects and proposal requirements for prospective developers.

Commission Chairman Rich Rohde suggested the city prioritize projects for low-income housing — an element that was included in the previous drafts.

“We’re getting cottage housing as the city’s possibility for middle-class folks,” Rohde said. “To get to workforce housing, we need to target the low income. ... There’s a perceptively higher need for projects that affect lower income than the middle income.”

But city Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid said that in emphasizing low-income housing, the city could run the risk of alienating potential partners who would be ready to build.

“Some staff felt like we need housing of all levels,” Reid said, ”We don’t get the luxury here of having so many applicants that have a project ready to proceed right now every year where we could say, ‘We only want this.’ There’s maybe nobody who can do that.”

Ashland also needs a wide range of housing stocks to create a chain reaction in the community, Reid said.

Commissioner Michelle Linley agreed, saying the city could benefit from having developers building a mix of housing units.

“There should be low-income housing, absolutely,” Linley said “But there’s nothing wrong with having market-rate apartments in the community — once a person hit that threshold of their income, they can move on to a market-rate apartment, and the next low-income person could move in.”

The commission's funding incentive is part of a broader effort to address affordable housing in a community where the median price of a single-family home sold between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 was $432,000.

To determine who would receive the incentive, city staff proposed a point scoring system of 100 points for proposed projects. The criteria include the ability, capacity and level of readiness to create new housing units; a thorough budget and timeline; plans to address unmet housing needs and energy conservation; among other things.

Eligible applicants, Reid added, will also have the ability obtain other grants, such as the Community Development Block Grants, to fund the project. The program, as she explained, could be combined with state and federal grants and encourage private developers to invest in affordable housing.

Commissioner Heidi Parker said she’d prefer to see more points given to a partner who “retains the affordable housing units as affordable,” which the commission agreed on.

She further suggested that the commission should wait for input from City Council on whether to prioritize a specific project.

“We don’t know what they want,” she said.

The commission will also have to wait on the city’s direction about how much money to allocate for the project’s first year of operation. Reid said the project will receive an additional $100,000 from marijuana tax revenue, but it’s up to the council when to deposit the money.

Rohde said the commission should be flexible and preserve some money for the following year.

Parker, however, said the city “needs housing desperately,” adding, “it’s hard to have to wait another year.”

City staff will present the recommendation to City Council in December before sending a request for proposals out in 2018.

— Reach Ashland Tidings reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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