Looking beyond the dollar signs

    Southern Oregon University officials are right to take the long view toward SOU's considerable investment in real estate. They are right for several reasons, not the least of which is the perennial problem of affordable housing in Ashland.

    At least one former SOU employee and a local contractor have suggested that the university could avoid drastic budget cuts by selling the 33 houses it owns for as much as $15 million.

    SOU finance officials responded that selling off the houses, most of which were purchased for a tiny fraction of their present value, would fix budget shortfalls for only a year or two, and leave many SOU students searching for housing in a high-priced market. The 33 houses are rented to low-income students at below-market rates. Single parents and couples with children receive priority, and there is a long waiting list.

    Not only would selling the properties be a short-term solution to SOU's budget woes, the move would shrink, not expand, Ashland's supply of affordable housing.

    Few buyers at today's prices would leave the aging, cheaply constructed houses in place and rent them or resell them. Most would likely be demolished and expensive new homes built in their place.

    Another potential advantage to retaining the properties is to provide affordable housing for new faculty members, many of whom cannot afford to purchase a home in Ashland. Some recent hires have backed out of the position because of housing prices.

    The university is studying the idea of selling some homes to faculty but retaining ownership of the land as a way to help faculty live in town.

    Another consideration for the university is future expansion needs. It is smart planning to have land already available when a new building or dormitory becomes necessary.

    It's easy for an outside observer to look at the university's real estate holdings and declining budgets and say sell. But in this case, the easy answer turns out to be wrong.

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