Vancouver city councilors put property tax measure on ballot

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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In November, city of Vancouver residents will decide whether to increase property taxes to address the city’s affordable housing emergency.

In their quest to solve a citywide housing emergency, city councilors unanimously voted late Monday night to put a property tax levy on the ballot.

The city has been faced with steep increases in rental prices, combined with some of the lowest vacancy rates.

At a rate of 36 cents per $1,000 assessed value, the proposed levy would generate $6 million annually for seven years. The revenue would be put into a fund for the buying, building and preservation of low-income rental housing and homelessness prevention. It would be used to help offset rental costs and help with other housing services.

“The character of a community is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said at the meeting Monday night.

Vancouver City Councilor Alishia Topper said when it comes to helping the city’s seniors, disabled and most at-risk population, the council is restricted in ways it can help. Topper said as a homeowner and a taxpayer, she realized it’s a burden for some to consider raising their own taxes. But Topper said she decided with her husband to “put together our 25 cents a day” and make it happen. For a house assessed at $250,000, the tax would result in about $90 a year.

“Know we are working on other solutions, and this isn’t the only one,” she said. “We’re not just putting it on the back of our citizens.”

Vancouver resident Mike Boynton said he understands improving the housing crisis is a complex issue. He feels fortunate, he told the council, to have a modest income that allows him and his wife to pay for their mortgage.

“But there are other considerations, my wife has multiple sclerosis,” he said. “We live conservatively.”

The medicine to help his wife is upwards of $55,000 a year, he said. And although they receive help from grants, an extra $90 a year out of their pocketbook would be felt.

“I would like to see more effort into finding other sources, matching funds, opposed to coming straight to the taxpayer and taking it,” Boynton said.

Councilors also stressed they were not voting to increase property taxes. Their decision on Monday night was to ask voters to weigh in on the idea in November.

Diane McWithey, executive director of Share Vancouver, one of the county’s leading nonprofits serving the homeless, thanked the council for putting the question to voters.

“We have seen firsthand the desperation and fear faced by many people who don’t how know they could ever pay their rent increases on a weekly basis,” she said.

To be eligible for help, a family could earn a maximum of 50 percent of the area’s median income, which is $33,750 for a family of four.