In 1970, the cost of a house in Ashland was likely to be less than twice the annual income of home buyers. By 2010, the gap had soared, with the median price of an Ashland home more than 10 times the median income of Ashland residents.

Now, as newcomers and low-income families struggle to find available and affordable housing, the city of Ashland is working to revise its 35-year-old housing vision and is seeking public input to assist in that revision.

The Housing Element is an analysis of the city’s housing inventory and status. It also includes a list of housing goals to help guide the city in making decisions and policies related to housing, such as ensuring a range of different housings, supporting affordable housing development and encouraging energy-efficient buildings.

The updated Housing Elements will be the housing guide for the city leaders and decision makers, while its revised goals will reflect a community that Ashland striving to have, City Council Traci Darrow said.

"I believe the goals are legitimate," Darrow said, adding that the city still needs to find ways to enact and achieve them with a tight budget in mind.

The document was adopted in the city’s comprehensive plan in 1982. Considered the backbone of the city’s vision on housing, land use and planning policies, the document has been partially updated from time to time, using supplemental reports that are produced every three to five years.

Now it needs an overhaul, staff said.

“The data are dated because it was written before the 1980 census,” said Linda Reid, Ashland Housing Program Specialist. “We also have definition and assumption that had long since stopped being relevant.”

Ashland didn't have any goals addressing low income housing when the document was first adopted in 1982, Reid said. The revision will include such goals, Reid said.

"(The revised document) will articulate the city's goal more clearly in such goals as being environmentally conscious and committing to affordable housing," Reid said.

Using supplemental reports such as buildable land inventory and housing needs inventory that demonstrate the rising needs for affordable housing, the city has already started to take steps to cope with demands.

In November 2017, the City Council passed a cottage housing ordinance that will allow a cluster of housing units that are smaller than 1,000 square feet to be built on empty lots or on a lot with an existing house. It also dedicated more than $330,000 to the city's Affordable Housing Trust Funds to help build low income housing units.

A 24-question questionnaire available on the city website covers topics such as affordability, accessibility, protecting historic neighborhoods and land uses. The questionnaire will help the city further define its goal, City Administrator John Karns said.

"The city will be doing a lot things with housing the next couple of years," he said. "(Reid) is seeking public input that will help us shape what our goals will be."

The questionnaire currently has no deadline and has received 28 responses so far.

Staff presented the latest draft of the Housing Element to the city's Housing and Human Services Commission in September 2017, proposing that document be reviewed and recommended as a whole, instead of revising it line by line.

The current 25-page draft, also available on the city’s website, includes the city’s housing stock and values. It includes several housing trends that demonstrate the current housing crisis in Ashland — how it has gotten harder to own a house or to rent in the city.

According to reports in the draft, the disparity between home value and income growth has grown exponentially between 1970 and 2010. In 1970, the median home value of $14,600 was less than twice the median income of $8,303, while median home value in 2010 of $408,000 represented just over 10 times the $40,777 median income. The median price of existing homes sold in Ashland in 2017 was $421,500.

The report also shows that for low-income households, housing cost burden has been growing at a faster rate, from more than 20 percent of their income to almost 50 percent over three decades, than for median income households — from 10 percent to roughly 25 percent over the same period.

Ashland population and housing inventory are on the rise, with fewer people living in bigger houses in Ashland, report shows. The city’s person per household rate has declined steadily since 1970 — with a low of 2.03 people per household in 2010 compared to 2.36 in 1980.  

Multi-family units — the housing type that can accommodate the broadest housing needs within the city — are decreasing, from 32 percent in 2000 to 26.6 percent in 2010, while single family units increased by 6.9 percent over the same period.

This is pricing out the lower-income population. Numbers of household that makes less than $25,000 per year has dropped by 9.8 percent, while almost every higher income group has seen an increase from 2000 to 2010. Those with more $200,000 in annual income has doubled in percentage, from 1.4 percent to 3 percent, over the same period.

Ashland’s average square footage for a single family housing unit has seen “a modest increase,” the report shows. 

Increasingly, Ashland's housing is not owner-occupied, with owners living in 51.6 percent of homes in 2010 compared with 57.7 percent in 1970 — a trend that is consistent with Jackson County and the nation as a whole, the report also shows.

The city can use the figures to adjust and draft new goals and policies to address issues such as affordable housing, Reid said. The report also notes that it’s “impossible to predict the housing market place.”

The draft includes analyses on the population’s income, housing demands, land needs and energy plan for transportation and housing. Darrow said she hopes to see a list of realistic priorities with background information in the revision.

Reid said that the City Council will review the document in a study session and host a public hearing before adopting it.

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