The housing market in Ashland remains strong despite a national downturn, according to observers who credit the city's appeal to retirees and out-of-towners for bolstering local home prices.




During the first six months of the year, 164 homes were sold in Ashland, up from just 129 a year ago, according to J. Adam Bogle of Coldwell Banker Pro West Real Estate.




"Ashland is going to be fairly solid from year to year," Bogle said in an interview from his Oak Street office, adding that the number of lower-priced houses &

below $300,000 &

selling locally has increased steadily, citing figures compiled by the Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service.




When looking through a narrower window, however, the picture appears less sunny. In the previous three-month period through June, just 95 existing homes changed hands, compared to 101 for the same period last year, and 116 homes two years ago.




Moreover, the median sales price of existing homes sold in Ashland for the first six months of the year was $395,000, down 3.8 percent from the same period a year before. For the 10 new homes, sold from January through June, the median price was $769,950, compared to a Jackson County-wide median of $360,700.




Brandon Goldman, the city housing specialist, said a robust local housing market over the last seven years has made Ashland less affordable, despite the city's "aggressive" push to increase the number of below-market rentals and for-sale units.




"We are in a rowboat trying to keep up with a speedboat," he said Friday.




City Councilor Cate Hartzell warned that even with incentives to builders who incorporate affordable units into their developments, the lack of affordable housing is not a problem "we can build our way out of."




"This is just a logical outcome of the division of wealth in this country," Hartzell said.




Councilor Eric Navickas said more than perhaps anything else, a demographic shift in the city is to blame for skyrocketing home prices.




The city, he said, needs to do all it can to "help protect" rental properties through condo-conversion ordinances to "keep working-age people" in a community that continues to be a magnate for seniors.




"This isn't a panacea that's going to solve all the problems, but it's a tool," he said of the ordinances.




covers government for the Ashland Daily Tidings. You can reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.