Vancouver City Council looks to protect low-income renters

Three recommendations from Affordable Housing Task Force discussed

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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What is Affordable Housing?

Affordable housing units are intended for households earning 60 percent or less of the local median income.

What is Affordable Housing?

Affordable housing units are intended for households earning 60 percent or less of the local median income.

The Vancouver City Council discussed three possible policies to protect low-income renters during a Monday workshop: prohibiting source-of-income discrimination, giving tenants more notice of rent increases and giving them more notice to vacate.

These were the first policies recommended by the Affordable Housing Task Force, an advisory board formed in April. The 21-member task force includes Mayor Tim Leavitt, Councilors Alishia Topper and Anne McEnerny-Ogle, representatives from the Council for the Homeless and Vancouver Housing Authority, as well as rental groups such as the Al Angelo Co. and the Clark County Rental Association.

Peggy Sheehan, the city’s community development programs manager and the staff member who oversees the task force, said that larger northwest cities such as Portland and Seattle have some of these rental protections already in place. When figuring out what might work for Vancouver, the task force looked at those cities’ ordinances and the studies they’ve done around affordable housing.

Late last year, tenants at Courtyard Village in Vancouver began getting notifications that renovations would spur higher rents. Month by month, tenants at the 150-unit complex were given the minimum legal notice — 20 days — to reapply or get out. It was this issue that spurred the creation of the Affordable Housing Task Force, Leavitt said.

“Courtyard Village shed a light on a greater problem,” Topper said. She said that low-income tenants are disproportionately burdened with finding housing in a market where vacancies are low and rents are rising.

“We need to find a solution that doesn’t break our landlords’ backs, but that will protect vulnerable renters in our community from being out on the streets and living in their cars,” Topper said.

Notice to vacate

The Affordable Housing Task Force differed on how many additional days tenants should be given. Most members agreed, however, that the minimum number of days that tenants give landlords should match.

The Courtyard Village problem also brought up the question of how many people from a multi-family complex can be evicted at the same time, without straining social service organizations, said McEnerny-Ogle.

“We haven’t fleshed that out,” she said. “There is a little more to this conversation that we didn’t have time to delve into.”

The task force recommended prohibiting landlords from evicting a complex’s entire population at the same time.

“For me, my threshold is 60 days to vacate,” Topper said, considering how long it takes a family to find new housing, move and possibly enroll their children in a different school.

She recommended adding the clause that landlords who own four or fewer housing units (including a four-plex) would be exempt from the ordinance.

Notice of rent hike

Giving tenants more notice that their rent is increasing would give them more time to find different housing or increase their income, according to the Affordable Housing Task Force’s recommendations.

“Don’t landlords usually do this anyway?” said Councilor Bart Hansen.

People contacted him saying that many landlords already give 45-days notice, but not all of them do. Some rental voucher programs require a 60-day notice.

Income discrimination

A policy that prohibits source-of-income discrimination would bar landlords from refusing to rent to people based on their source of rental income. That includes Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, retirement program income, and housing vouchers such as Section 8.

The goal is to allow low-income renters to compete in the housing market.

Some of those on the task force recommended a voucher education program that would let tenants and landlords know how vouchers work.

City staff will draft three ordinances to address these affordable housing topics and send them to the City Council for consideration.