Ashland's move to allow "cottage housing" offers one partial answer to the lack of affordable housing in the city: stand-alone houses of 800 square feet that could be purchased for far less than the median full-sized home.

These are not "tiny houses" — portable shelters without water or electricity designed to house the homeless — but fully functional structures built closer together than presently allowed by city code.

The Planning Commission gave its unanimous approval Tuesday night to a change in city rules to allow houses of 800 square feet in clusters, separated by six feet from the next house instead of the 12 feet now required. The houses could be grouped together on one lot or built singly adjacent to existing homes. The rules would allow density of 6.6 units per acre.

The proposal goes to the Housing Commission tonight.

Cottage houses would be permitted in selected residential zones. Areas under consideration include the Ashland Mine Road area, between Oak Street and North Mountain Avenue north of Clinton Street and the Normal Avenue neighborhood.

While designed for purchase at an estimated $240,000, many of these units likely would become rentals, and that should be encouraged as well.

Cottage houses offer the potential for multi-generational living and intentional communities, which should appeal to many in Ashland. Most important, they are more affordable than anything available now.

If the city is serious about people who work in Ashland being able to live in town, this is one way to get there.