Affordable Housing — Day Two
In part two of a two-day series on affordable housing, the Daily Tidings looks at housing issues affecting senior citizens.

Affordable housing units for senior citizens in Ashland have been lost in recent years even as seniors struggle with losses in retirement investments, diminished home values and high health care costs.

The 17-unit Johnston Manor affordable housing complex on Park Street served senior citizens and disabled people.

Johnston Manor stopped accepting new affordable housing tenants in 2008, after fulfilling a 30-year government obligation to provide affordable housing.

Tenants who lived there received vouchers to stay or find housing elsewhere, and most stayed. But if they die or move away, their units will become market rate rentals.

Craig Horton, president of Medford Better Housing Association, Inc., said his family built the Johnston Manor complex and other affordable housing complexes in the Rogue Valley decades ago.

The family decided against renewing its role as an affordable housing provider partially because of government regulations, and partly for a change of pace, Horton said.

He said his family has enjoyed renting affordable housing to senior citizens and disabled people, who he said make great tenants.

"They don't party and they stay five, 10, 15 or 20 years. That's good business. They're a good population and very easy to work with. They are very nice people," Horton said.

Housing for senior citizens and disabled people is sometimes built together because the two populations can have similar needs, said city of Ashland Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid.

Reid said she has been fielding more calls in recent months from senior citizens looking for affordable housing options.

She said many seniors live on fixed incomes, and those who rely solely on social security payments qualify as very low income residents.

Some seniors have owned their own homes, but keeping their houses can become prohibitively expensive if they lose the ability to maintain their own property, Reid said.

Many sell their homes and turn to rental housing, she said.

With the real estate downturn, many seniors are getting less money when they sell their houses.

Reid said even if a senior citizen sells a home and banks $300,000, that money has to last for the rest of the person's life, with much of it used for healthcare.

Many seniors who invested for their retirements suffered heavy losses in recent years, she said.

"So many people lost their retirement money. They lost their nest egg. People are saying they have half of what they did before," Reid said.

When it comes to providing affordable housing for seniors and other residents, Ashland has been treading water. Housing providers built about 77 new units since 2008, but about 80 units timed out of affordable housing programs as developers fulfilled affordability period requirements.

Most units built in the past several years haven't focused specifically on senior citizens and the needs they may have as they age.

But a 60-unit affordable housing project that was finished this year on Clay Street has three units that comply with Americans with Disability Act accessibility standards. There is also a unit to serve the needs of a hearing impaired person, according to city documents.

All 14 of the Clay Street complex's ground level apartments were designed to be ADA-adaptable, and 43 units were built with wide exterior and restroom doors so people in wheelchairs can visit, according to city documents.

Ashland Senior Program Director Christine Dodson said rising utility bills can impact senior citizens on fixed incomes, making Ashland less affordable.

"This is a big subject for our folks," she said.

The city of Ashland raised water rates by 10 percent in May and sewer rates by 6 percent in June. Electricity rates will rise by 4 percent effective Oct. 20.

Some long-term residents may have paid off their mortgages, but they may still have trouble paying utility bills, she said.

The Ashland Senior Program administers an electricity bill help program for seniors and disabled people, as well as for low income residents of all ages who need aid, Dodson said.

The Ashland City Council has asked city staff members to prepare a report on the electricity bill help the city government provides. Councilors want to know whether an uptick in electricity service cut-offs occurs after electricity rates increase.

Dodson said the need for utility bill help has been outstripping available funding.

"We spend pretty much every penny," she said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.