New law could help create more affordable housing in 2022

MEDFORD, Ore. — As many are saying ‘So long!’ to 20-21, some look warily to the future. A concern that isn’t going away at midnight on the 31st? Affordable Housing. A new year brings new laws and one new Oregon law could increase affordable housing in the southern Oregon area. 

“We had a housing crisis before [the] Almeda [fire], no question about it. We have some of the highest rent to income ratios of anywhere in the state. We have very low vacancy rate. And then we had the Almeda fire,” said Rep. Pam Marsh. After the Almeda fire tore through Phoenix and Talent in September 2020, many Jackson County residents have been struggling to find affordable housing. 

“We lost 2,500 units. Of those, 1,500 to 1,700 were manufactured homes and RV’s were the most naturally occurring, affordable housing in our area,” said Rep. Marsh. SB8 was passed during the 2021 legislative session. It’s meant to allow for “the development of affordable housing on land currently zoned for commercial or light industrial uses.”

“The intention there is to really just make sure that we are opening up up as much appropriate land as possible for affordable housing,” said Rep. Marsh. It restricts local governments from denying affordable housing applications, with certain exceptions, such as being located on a floodplain or unable to be served by utilities. But a city leader is calling the new law problematic.

“I think there are potentially some unintended consequences from Senate Bill 8, and I question just how effective it’s going to be,” said city planner Matt Brinkley. He said the new law could prevent the city from requiring a zone change. He said that’s typically a first step in a development project — to see if there is enough infrastructure to build.

“That step number one is really important for us. Because it’s the way that we ensure that you’re able to flush a toilet and have it work, which is super important,” said Brinkley. Both Marsh and Brinkley agree — when it comes to affordable housing — this law is only one piece of the puzzle. 

They both say money to build is one of the biggest factors holding potential developments back. “So it gives us more options. But again, it doesn’t solve the the key component, having enough money and enough political will to get affordable housing built in a significant way,” said Marsh. 

In just the last month, NBC5 News has reported several new affordable or ‘accessible’ housing projects in the works. 

  • 150 units will be built in downtown Medford next to Les Schwab on Central. That housing project will be through the Medford Urban Renewal Agency (MURA). 
  • Construction on a 3-story, 62-unit complex is expected to begin early 2022, also downtown. It will be located just across the street from the Jackson County Public Health building.
  • West Medford is expecting 84 new ‘fire resistant’ 3D printed homes.We have 84 lots in the whole project, plus a community center, which will serve for social purposes and a daycare because this is going to be a close community,” said former architect, Barry Thalden.
  • 60 new affordable units were built in Ashland as a “Part 2” to the existing Snowberry Brook. “The units are pretty much energy efficient. They have washers, dryers, dishwasher, electric range, refrigerator, it was wonderful. I was just blown away,” said city councilor Gina DuQuenne.
  • A brand new 4-story apartment complex is coming to Phoenix. The apartments will be built in the old VS Plaza behind Jack in the Box.

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