Renters protest the high cost of a home in Ashland

Protesters gathered outside a property management company in Ashland Monday to demonstrate against rental price increases that they say amount to greed.

“I say greed is horrible,” said McKenna Smith, a student at Southern Oregon University who held a sign demanding an end to frequent rent increases. She marched at Commercial Property Management along with a dozen other protesters gathered on the sidewalk in front of the the CPM office on Highway 99.

“Were they not taught any morals?” Smith asked. “If they have enough money I don’t see why they are raising rents.”

Smith said the property manager for her home sent her a rent increase notice of $250 a month. That forced her to move to Medford, from where she commutes to Ashland for school.

David Wright, president of CPM, said he understands renters’ frustrations but the costs are being driven by supply and demand. With the supply falling short of the demand, property values are rising.

“The rents were pretty static for a long time,” Wright said. “Since the market has improved, houses are selling and tenants are displaced. I definitely empathize with what’s going on. We need more housing, more supply, so we can have affordable housing.”

With vacancy rates hovering at between 1 and 2 percent, inventory of rentals are low and landlords can command higher rent prices. Wright said property owners are responding to that shift in the market.

“They are trying to get properties up to the market value,” he said.

As the protesters continued gathering on the sidewalk outside his business Wright brought out coffee and engaged organizers Vanessa and Jason Houk in a conversation about possible solutions.

“It’s good to have a dialogue,” Vanessa Houk said of the conversation.

That dialogue aside, Jason Houk said, the rents are simply too high and causing ripple problems throughout the community.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more people living in their cars.”

Vanessa Houk said that rather than landlords and property managers responding to market conditions, it’s more likely they’re creating the market conditions.

“They’re inflating the market. They’re one piece to the puzzle,” said Houk. She gave two examples of people who had rent increases of $150 and $200 per month, which she said stops them from spending money that supports other parts of the economy.

“At some point there has to be an end. Eventually it’s going to crash,” she said as protestors held signs and drivers passing by honked and waved.

Affordable housing has been identified as a priority among all candidates for Ashland City Council and in the mayor’s race. According to the cost of living index, Ashland’s housing costs are 67 percent higher than the average in the rest of the country.

Sales of existing homes in Jackson County for the months of July through September showed Ashland with a median sales price of nearly $375,000, while the county average was $248,000. Those figures represent only sales during that three-month period, but Ashland prices routinely come in much higher than those of the county at large.

It’s not a new problem. Rising home prices and rents have been a growing part of the conversation in the past year, as the economy stabilized and housing renewed its previous steep price climb in Ashland. And the problem is likely to get worse.

“We have a housing under-production problem,” said Oregon Home Builders Association Chief Executive Officer Jon Chandler. “We should be building 25,000 units statewide. We’re building 15,000.

“We’re under-building based on our demographics,” Chandler said. “It has been that way since the recession. We’re still under-building based on what we need — and what we are building may not match the price range people can afford.”

The Houks and many of their fellow protestors agreed more homes need to be built but also called for more compassion by landlords and property managers toward their renters.

“I think it boils down to greed. Everybody is pointing fingers and no one is looking at the big picture. We’re a community and we need to look out for each other,” said Vanessa Houk, who recently lost her long term rental after the owners decided to sell it.

The Houks were able to purchase a home — in part funded by crowd-sourcing — but she said Monday the situation opened her eyes to the struggles of renters who are having a hard time keeping up with annual rent increases combined with the costs of moving, deposits and application fees.

“So many people don’t have the resources,” she said.

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