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A big step for housing

The city of Ashland took a big step Tuesday toward allowing more affordable rental housing units when it unanimously approved the first reading of amendments to the city code.

The changes will allow owners of single-family homes to add what are known as accessory residential units (ARUs) up to 500 square feet within or attached to the existing house without going through an often onerous application process. The existing code requires applicants to submit to site design review, which can be lengthy and expensive and act as a deterrent to adding more housing options in a town that desperately needs them.

Despite the obstacles, Development Director Bill Molnar says 20 percent of building permit applications are for ARUs, double the percentage last year. Easing the application process should boost the number even more.

There are good reasons to encourage this kind of development in Ashland.

The units typically rent for $750-800. They are ideal for single renters with modest incomes, such as restaurant workers and college students.

ARUs increase density while preserving the character of residential neighborhoods.

An ARU that complies with city code requirements can make a home more attractive to potential buyers, who may be looking for ways to afford a single-family home in Ashland’s pricey real estate market.

A new state law passed last year that takes effect July 1 requires cities to allow ARUs in areas zoned for single-family houses, “subject to reasonable local regulations relating to siting and design.”

The council’s action makes Ashland’s regulations much more reasonable.

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