Self-employed in Ashland look for relief but see none

ASHLAND, Ore.– Ashland’s tourist-driven economy is being crippled and it’s affecting small businesses in all sectors. However, those who are self-employed have yet to receive any funds to help ease the financial losses thousands are facing.

“We offer a very unique thing here in Ashland so I would like to see that retained,” said Karin Onkka, a self-employed rental owner of Stone’s Throw Bungalow in Ashland.

For nearly 12 years, Onkka has used part of her home as a legitimate tiny business for companies like Airbnb, Booking.com, and FlipKey. Business has mostly been good through this time and Onkka has made it her main source of income.

In the past couple of years though, wildfires have impacted a significant portion of her business. The coronavirus pandemic has seen to the rest. Like hundreds of other tiny businesses in the city, help doesn’t seem to be coming for her industry.

“I feel like I’m exploring all avenues and I’m still coming up empty,” she said.

Onkka says tiny businesses such as hers in the hospitality sector are necessary to Ashland’s economic structure. Shuttling guests, supporting locals, and paying to the transient occupancy tax or TOT, she believes they are a vital part of the economy and for that, she would like to see help from the city.

“I just want to be seen, recognized, appreciated. We have expertise, we have years of experience behind us,” she said. “If they’re willing to let all these businesses just dissolve and hope that others are going to take their place, I don’t think it’s saying much for who we are.”

In early May, the Ashland city council will be discussing a grant program for small businesses. The council may also consider looking at passthrough funding with grants from the state or federal level. But there still isn’t anything set up for gig or self-employed.

The state is set to open up processing claims for these types of workers by the end of April according to an announcement on Wednesday from Governor Kate Brown. So far, Onkka has been putting in claims but hasn’t seen anything.

She says she has a part-time job as a graphic designer and as a superhost with Airbnb, she’s invited to join a grant program and potentially receive some funding. It’s still only a band-aid.

“No none of it’s enough,” said Onkka. “It’s going to be a cobbling together to meet my basic needs, my basic bills.”

Onkka would like to see some type of fund created from areas like the TOT. According to one city councilor, the City of Ashland’s TOT has lost $1.5 million in revenue in roughly a month. If nothing changes, more losses at this level could be expected.

Onkka says she understands that very little to no revenue is flowing into TOT but she would like to see a portion of what’s left be used as a “rainy day” fund to help small businesses like hers stay afloat.

Otherwise, Ashland could become unrecognizable to many.

“If the businesses aren’t here when Shakespeare reopens or we’re sort of limping along or things are boarded up and look empty,” said Onkka. “No one’s gonna want to come back.”

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