Ashland likes to be known as a progressive community, but increasingly its reputation is as a place where working families, people on fixed incomes and students can’t afford to live — and where city leaders are not taking action to address the problem.
At the Feb. 21 City Council meeting, the two of us were among a group of speakers from the Southern Oregon Housing for All Coalition who asked the mayor and council to take four modest and practical steps to make a start on easing Ashland’s affordable housing crisis.
The four ideas had already been discussed with city officials and commissions. We wanted them placed on the formal agenda for the next council meeting so action could start being taken.
Unfortunately, neither the mayor nor council members responded to what we had to say. In fact, KTVL News 10 reported afterward that council member Dennis Slattery, the official liaison to the Ashland Housing and Human Services Commission, said it “could take months or years to get it on the City Council agenda.”
Our first proposal is to strengthen tenant protections, as some other Oregon communities are doing. In Jackson County, one in every three renters — and three-quarters of low-income renters — are paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent.
With rental vacancy rates hovering between 1 and 2 percent in Ashland, we strongly urge the Ashland City Council to declare a Housing State of Emergency and pass an ordinance requiring 90 days' minimum notice for any no-cause eviction or drastic rent increase (of more than 5 percent). Thirty days is simply not enough time to pick up and find a new place to live.
Second, we are asking the city to use the $166,361 sitting in Ashland's Affordable Housing Trust Fund account to advance several short-term projects aimed at addressing Ashland's current housing crisis.
The city also needs to identify and dedicate a sustainable revenue source for that fund in the future. On average, for every dollar a city puts into a housing trust fund, $6.50 is matched by federal, state, and private sources. Ashland established its Affordable Housing Trust Fund nearly a decade ago, but the city has allowed it to be largely dormant since then.
Third, the city should work with faith groups and community volunteers to expand the current shelter program that functions only in winter and only five days a week (plus certain emergencies) to ensure shelter every day for our most vulnerable residents.
Fourth, Ashland should follow the lead of the Medford City Council by creating a tiny-house transitional housing program.
Both of us have experienced the impact of Ashland’s lack of affordable housing. Like other tenants in the area and people who can’t afford to buy a home, we know that housing problems affect people’s jobs, health, mental well being, and social relationships.
Housing is a basic human right. It’s time for city leaders to help make sure that Ashland residents are not priced out of our own community.
— Bonny Photinos and Jacob Dean are two residents affected by Ashland’s affordable housing crisis and are active members of the Southern Oregon Housing for All Coalition.