Affordable for whom?

The city is losing existing affordable housing units as fast as providers can build new ones.

Since 2008, about 80 housing units have dropped out of affordable housing programs, while about 77 new affordable apartments and homes have been built, according to figures provided by city of Ashland Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid.

Ashland is treading water on affordable housing even after teaming with the Jackson County Housing Authority and the state to build a 60-unit development on lower Clay Street. That project was finished this spring.

But in May, the 32-unit Chief Tyee affordable housing complex on Garfield Street stopped accepting new affordable housing tenants, joining at least two other complexes that have dropped out of housing programs since 2008.

Dozens of additional units could be lost in the next few years if providers decide not to renew contracts to provide affordable housing, according to city records.

Craig Horton, president of Medford Better Housing Association Inc., said a variety of factors have contributed to the loss of existing affordable housing in Ashland. The company, founded by his family, has operated complexes in the Rogue Valley for decades.

Back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, his family used Oregon bond financing to build affordable housing complexes.

In return for the financing, Horton's family agreed to keep the units as affordable housing for 30 years, he said.

The period of affordability for most of the units has expired, and the family decided to get out of the affordable housing business, he said.

"We fulfilled our commitment," Horton said.

The company could have renewed as a provider of affordable housing, but opted out, he said.

"It's natural to want to move on after so long," Horton said.

Along with the Chief Tyee complex, the company's 17-unit Johnston Manor complex on Park Street in Ashland is no longer accepting new affordable housing tenants, Horton said.

Two of the company's complexes in Medford have dropped out of affordable housing programs, and a third one is set to leave in March, 2012, he said.

Horton said affordable housing providers must deal with regulations that can be difficult.

A major factor behind his family's decision to leave the business is that they can only get profits out of the complexes one time per year, instead of monthly, he said.

That would be akin to a person having a job, but getting paid in one annual lump sum.

The family also had to pay $4,000 each year for an annual audit, Horton said.

Tenants who lived at the family's Chief Tyee and Johnston Manor complexes received housing vouchers that allowed them to stay, or they could use the vouchers and find housing elsewhere, Horton said.

Most of the Johnston Manor tenants have stayed because that complex serves senior citizens and disabled people, he said.

Chief Tyee served mainly families, who tend to be more mobile. The complex has lost about half its affordable housing tenants, Horton said.

"Some left to rent a house or moved to one of our units in Medford," he said. "Some left the area."

Ried, Ashland's housing program specialist, said while the individual tenants can receive vouchers and stay in their affordable housing units, when a complex drops out of housing programs, that represents a loss of affordable housing stock for the community.

Horton said his family's complexes are dropping out of affordable housing programs, but rent for newly market rate units hasn't risen dramatically. Market rental rates have been depressed and vacancy rates are up in recent years, he said.

"We try to retain the residents. If they move, we will have a vacancy we have to fill," he said.

Ashland is taking steps to deal with the continuing loss of existing affordable housing, Reid said.

In years past, developers who built affordable housing and kept it affordable for 30 years could have city system development charges waived.

But they could buy their way out of keeping units affordable by paying the charges that had been waived.

Ashland eliminated the early buy-out option in 2005, according to city documents.

More recently, the city has put greater priority on the preservation of existing affordable housing when it decides how to spend federal housing money that comes to Ashland, Reid said.

Along with Ashland, the state and federal governments are also prioritizing the preservation of existing affordable housing units, she said.

Methods for keeping existing affordable housing include providing funding to refurbish and maintain units, and searching for new organizations to buy and run complexes when the original owner decides to stop being a provider of affordable housing, Reid said.

For example, the Stratford Apartments on Clay Street timed out of affordable housing programs, but the complex was bought by another affordable housing provider, she said.

The decades-old, 51-unit complex has undergone a major year-long rehabilitation project. Improvements include new heating and air conditioning systems, windows, flooring, hot water heaters and landscaping, Stratford Apartments Property Manager Kelly Pegoda said.

Like other affordable housing complexes, the Stratford Apartments has a waiting list. It's about six months to one year long, but some people can get in within 60 days if tenants move and openings come up, Pegoda said.

"We do have a waiting list, but it's not super, super long. I encourage people to get on it," said Pegoda, who said she believes there is a "huge need" for affordable housing in town.

Reid said keeping existing affordable housing units is much easier than starting from scratch and building new housing in Ashland.

"We're trying to prioritize the preservation of other units that are going to expire," she said. "We're running out of centrally located, flat, buildable land."

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

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