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GUEST OPINION

Ashland doesn't have a problem with affordable housing

 Posted: 2:00 AM October 15, 2012

There are at least several flaws with the Oct. 8 Daily Tidings article entitled, "Left Out In The Cold," which seems to try to persuade us that Ashland has a severe need for affordable housing.

First, the article assumes there's actually a problem. The fact is that some communities have higher-priced properties than others. The fact is that the law of supply and demand actually works. The fact is that you can get twice the home in Talent for the same price as one in Ashland. This is simple reality, no different than other desirable places to live, such as Beverly Hills.

By the way, I spent a little time looking through the Beverly Hills city website, trying to find anything about their affordable housing program. I couldn't find a thing. Could there be a reason?

Next, the Oct. 8 article assumes one can simply create density variances or pour huge sums of tax dollars into creating affordable housing, and the "problem" will be alleviated. Unfortunately, the author of the Oct. 8 article completely ignores two other articles in the Daily Tidings within the past 12 months, which report how Ashland's affordable housing efforts over the past 25 years have failed. Despite all our time and money, we have no more affordable housing units in Ashland today than we did in the 1980s. See the Ashland Daily Tidings article of Oct. 11, 2011 at http://bit.ly/URsYCn and of Feb. 3, 2012 at http://bit.ly/X24AeF.

Third, the Oct. 8 article states: "The analysis found that workers employed in the fastest growing employment sectors in Ashland — services and retail — don't make enough money to afford rent. High housing costs are pushing workers to live outside Ashland and commute to town, increasing traffic and parking problems."

Clearly, given the number of Ashland's service and retail workers, there is absolutely no way tiny little Ashland's government could build enough cheap apartments to house them all or even a tenth their number. Also quite clearly, the solution is free public transportation, greatly alleviating our parking and traffic problems and helping stimulate our local economy. Furthermore, we have had an ongoing, growing need for more parking downtown. How about we actually do something about that?

Fourth, the Oct. 8 article states: "From 2000 to 2010, the percentage of people ages 54 and younger fell, while the number of older people rose, according to U.S. Census data used for the analysis." Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this a true statement for the United States as a whole? If so, how about we adjust to our changing demographics instead of trying to live in the past?

Finally, I have no objection to designating more land for multi-family housing or requiring apartments to be built in some areas, disallowing condos and townhouses in these locations, provided doing so doesn't create liability for the city to compensate the affected landowners for their loss from not being able to use their land for its most valuable uses. In other words, if landowners do have a loss because of the redesignation, they are entitled to be compensated, and if they are entitled to be compensated, we shouldn't redesignate how they can use their land. I also have no objection to the city encouraging development that mixes business and residential uses, or fostering redevelopment of buildings to provide housing, provided doing so doesn't cost us tax dollars or city land.

Furthermore, I have no objection to reducing minimum lot sizes to promote small houses, or construction of mother-in-law units on existing lots. Ashland made its choice years ago not to expand its urban boundaries, so the only choice we have left for growth is in-filling. What I do object to doing is what we've already tried that's failed, particularly if it involves spending tax dollars, losing city land or interfering with the rights of property owners to do as they wish with their own land.

Some people may not like the fact that Ashland is the Beverly Hills of Southern Oregon, and hence those with less income can't afford to live here, but what we've done with affordable housing so far has been a huge drain on our resources, a huge failure, and we have no more units today than we did in the 1980s. In essence, we've been there and done that. It's time to move on.

Bruce Harrell lives in Ashland.


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