Prop. 1 levy on track to pass

57.37 percent of votes in favor of housing measure on Tuesday night

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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Voters in Vancouver appear to be on board with a new tax to help thousands of low-income households maintain or secure affordable housing.

Proposition 1, a levy that would bring in $6 million per year for seven years, was passing Tuesday night with 57.37 percent of voters for it.

“It feels good to win. It feels good because it’s a good thing for Vancouver,” said Katie Archer, the Bring Vancouver Home campaign manager promoting Proposition 1. She felt confident declaring the campaign’s victory. “We can all think about the actual people who will benefit from this fund in the long term.”

At a rate of 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, applied to both residential and commercial property owners, the levy would cost the owner of a $250,000 home an extra $7.50 a month, or $90 a year, for seven years. The funds will be used to preserve and develop affordable housing and provide services such as rent assistance. It’s supposed to help households earning less than half the average income and is hailed as a way to offset market pressures. To qualify, a single person would need to earn less than $25,700 annually; a couple’s income would need to be less than $29,350; and for a family of four, less than $36,650.

“Vancouver understands that we are in a housing crisis and that we need to do something about that as a community because if we don’t, we’re not going to be living in the community we really want,” Archer said. She said that while campaign workers were door-knocking and phone canvassing, voters often told them stories about living on the edge and almost losing their housing.

Andy Silver, the executive director of the Council for the Homeless, said the next step is to get a community advisory panel put together and get to work implementing the levy.

Silver is thankful to the community and the city’s elected officials who “took a chance on this by putting this on the ballot.”

“We didn’t know when they did that what the result would be. That shows real leadership,” Silver said.

Archer said that other communities around the state, facing their own housing issues, were watching what happened with Proposition 1 in Vancouver. The city modeled the proposition after a similar measure that passed in Bellingham in 2012. Silver said the result tells policymakers that the community cares and wants to tackle this issue, and that the levy is just the first step toward tackling the housing crisis.

In Clark County, more than 24,000 renters are considered cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing. An estimated 15,000 of the cost-burdened renters live in the city. There are more than 2,000 homeless students between the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts.

There was no organized group asking voters to reject the proposition. However, Ceci Smith and Eric Hovee, opponents of the levy and former board members of the Vancouver Housing Authority, were concerned about the results.

“The property tax will be pushed off to the renters,” Smith said. “I feel it’s a county issue — it’s not a city issue.”

While both acknowledged something has to be done about the lack of affordable housing in the area, they said they’re not convinced Proposition 1 is the right action.

“My question is are we doing it in a way that’s really going to make a difference or are we throwing money away?” Hovee said. “The city’s role, to my understanding, has not been extremely well thought out.”

In Portland, voters Tuesday approved a $258 million bond measure to fund more affordable housing with 61 percent voting ‘yes’ and 38 percent voting ‘no.’