ASHLAND, Ore. — A tight housing market in trendy Ashland is causing rental rates to shoot up and some are protesting hikes of up to $250 a month as the issue takes front and center in upcoming City Council and mayoral races.

The town of about 20,000 people near the California border has a rental vacancy rate of just 1 to 2 percent and housing costs are 67 percent higher than the average in the rest of the country, the Ashland Daily Tidings reported, relying on the cost of living index (

Housing experts say the supply of homes has not kept up with demand, which has soared as the country emerged from the 2008 recession. A shortage of homes forces people to rent, but those units are also tight, said Oregon Home Builders Association Chief Executive Officer Jon Chandler.

It’s a statewide problem that’s felt acutely in Ashland, which attracts thousands of visitors each year with the Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival, its warm climate and laid-back vibe.

McKenna Smith, a student at Southern Oregon University, attended a recent protest with a sign demanding an end to rent hikes.

Smith said the property manager for her home sent her a rent increase notice of $250 a month.

That forced her to move to nearby Medford and she commutes to Ashland for school.

“I say greed is horrible,” Smith said, as she marched at Commercial Property Management along with a dozen other protesters. “If they have enough money I don’t see why they are raising rents.”

David Wright, president of CPM, said he understands renters’ frustrations but the costs are being driven by supply and demand.

“The rents were pretty static for a long time,” Wright said. “Since the market has improved, houses are selling and tenants are displaced. I definitely empathize with what’s going on. We need more housing, more supply, so we can have affordable housing.”

Affordable housing has been identified as a priority among all candidates for Ashland City Council and in the mayor’s race. According to the cost of living index, Ashland’s housing costs are 67 percent higher than the average in the rest of the country.

Sales of existing homes in Jackson County for the months of July through September showed Ashland with a median sales price of nearly $375,000, while the county average was $248,000. Ashland prices routinely come in much higher than those of the county at large.

Another protester, Vanessa Houk, recently lost her long term rental after the owners decided to sell it.

The Houks were eventually able to purchase a home with the help of crowd-sourced fundraising but Jason Houk told the newspaper it feels like the problem has reached a tipping point. The couple knows two people who had rent increases of $150 a month and $200 a month, respectively.

“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Jason Houk said of his decision to protest. “We’re seeing more and more people living in their cars.”