Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Monday, March 14, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016
Siskiyou Room, 51 Winburn Way
Mayor Stromberg called the meeting to order at 5:32 p.m. in the Siskiyou Room. 
Councilor Morris, Seffinger, Voisin, Lemhouse, and Marsh were present.  Councilor Rosenthal arrived at 6:15 p.m.
1.   Public Input  
Torii Uyehara/275 Palm Avenue/Explained she was the Southern Oregon University (SOU) Student Body President.  She had 350 petitions from students that had experienced housing discrimination in Ashland.  Her constituents were interested in integrating into the community and being accepted.
Kevin Stout/127 Cypress Circle/Explained he was an attorney and practiced landlord-tenant law.  He was the vice president of Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association and spoke on their behalf regarding the proposed protected class.  He was also on the board of directors for the Center for Non-profit Legal Services.  Ashland had low vacancy rates.  It was difficult to find housing in the community especially for students who lacked rental history and employment income.  Oregon had robust antidiscrimination rules and regulations and adding a protected class just for students would not improve their ability to get housing.  It would result in unnecessary litigation, drive up housing costs, increase application fees, and rent.  Oregon prohibited source of income discrimination.  Parents cosigning rental agreements, scholarships, and financial aid all contributed to income.  He did not think students warranted the same level of protection other protected classes did.   It would not remedy the issues.  Landlords would more subtly discriminate in excluding students and create higher standards for all renters.  Litigating discrimination cases were difficult to prove, and expensive for both parties. 
Council clarified the ordinance addressed age and not actual students and added language regarding source of income.  Mr. Stout thought it could cause other unnecessary litigations.  A dialogue with landlords would be more effective.  He thought there was a small group of landlords who did not want to rent to students because they perceived turnover, occupancy violations, and other issues.  The Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association provided training for landlords on inspections, renting to students, ensuring they were good tenants so property owners did not miss out on the student rental market. 
2.   Look Ahead review
City Administrator Dave Kanner reviewed items on the Look Ahead.
3.   Report on potential amendments to Ashland’s Fair Housing Ordinance
Senior Planner Brandon Goldman explained in April 2014, Council directed the Housing and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to study and develop a recommendation on adding students as a protected class to the fair housing ordinance.  The proposed ordinance was a result of that effort. 
Housing Program Specialist Linda Reid explained changes to the ordinance would add two protected classes, one for age and other was domestic partnership since the City had a domestic partnership registry.  Another change would clarify language under Section 10.110.020 Definitions (L) Source of Income and specifically state “grants, scholarships, loans, Federal Student Aid, Social Security benefits, Section 8 housing choice voucher assistance, pensions, retirement savings ,” and add “…Source of income does not include income derived from a specific occupation or income…”  Type of income was under state law and staff thought it was important to clarify it in the proposed ordinance.  It was not easy for landlords to pursue income from grants and scholarships to recover excessive damage costs.  The ordinance did not address co-signers.
City Attorney Dave Lohman did not think the language added to the ordinance would provide an extra leverage for students.  It would help a student rejected by a landlord for insufficient income who excluded scholarships or other forms stated in the ordinance.  Adding age provided some advantage.  A plaintiff would have to prove a rejection was due to age.
Ms. Reid noted there were housekeeping changes throughout the ordinance.  Under Section 10.110.040 Exemptions staff removed (B)(4) Any housing unit of less than four hundred (400) square feet gross floor area for families.  Familial status would include a pregnant single woman and a two-person household.  Under the same section (A)(1), staff added age, gender identity and domestic partner status, and removed (D)(4) Refusal to contract with a governmental agency under 42 U.S.C. 1437f(a) “Section 8.”  Staff re-added Section 10.110.080 Penalties to include additional protected classes.
The City had not encountered any enforcement issues.  The Fair Housing Council received an average of 13 calls with the majority landlord-tenant issues.  Enforcement would seek compliance prior to fining a landlord.  Council wanted the ordinance to have a specific violation classification.  Other Council comment expressed concern on car requirements for units under 500 square feet.
Ms. Reid clarified a legally emancipated minor was protected.  Language regarding hemp workers under the Source of Income definition was from state law and a housekeeping consideration for Council.  
HHSC SOU liaison Megan Mercier explained she was the director of SOU Public Relations for Student Government.  She shared three proposed solutions.  The first would allow SOU to use dorm history as rental history. University Housing currently performed reference checks on students’ history in the residence halls.  The second solution would create an app that rated students as renters and property management companies.  Renters could use the app to store their rental history.  The third solution would involve establishing a Rental Housing Reference Fund Pool students could pay into that guaranteed money for damages exceeding the deposit.  Other recommendations included education, providing a cleaning supply for tenants, and outreach regarding fair housing laws.  Ms. Mercier clarified SOU provided cleaning tools for students living in the residential halls.  This could expand to include students living off campus and possibly funded through student fees.  She was working with university housing to implement a student renter orientation twice a year.  She submitted a document regarding the training into the record.  Another idea Ms. Mercier was researching entailed student cooperative housing.  There were 6,200 students at SOU with 4,402 fully enrolled.  Housing and Residential Services had 1,100 dorm rooms, and 206 family housing units. 
Council directed staff to bring an ordinance back to a Council meeting for a public hearing.  HHSC would send a letter to the SOU Department of Housing supporting the continuity of student involvement in renter issues in the future.
Meeting adjourned at 6:52 p.m.
Respectfully submitted,                                                                                                          
Dana Smith
Assistant to the City Recorder

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