In Our View: ‘Yes’ on Prop. 1 in Vancouver

Tax to support affordable housing resonable step to address homelessness

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There are, undoubtedly, no easy solutions to the growing crisis surrounding affordable housing. Yet while the issue is complex and no attempt to address it should be viewed as a panacea, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 1 on the November ballot in the city of Vancouver.

We say this cautiously. Efforts to encourage the development of affordable housing — and to mitigate the related issue of homelessness — have been met with mixed success throughout the country, but Vancouver’s plan represents a reasonable approach to the subject. Note that we say “reasonable” rather than “perfect”; any tax increase should be approached judiciously, and many efforts have demonstrated that throwing additional funds at an issue are not always effective.

Before delving into the specifics of Proposition 1, we must remind that support for the measure is merely a recommendation. The Columbian trusts that voters will examine the details of the plan, weigh the need for affordable housing, and listen to arguments on both sides of the issue before casting an informed ballot.

Proposition 1 would institute a property-tax levy to support housing for low-income citizens. According to proponents, it would add about $90 a year to the average homeowner’s property-tax bill, and the revenue would be specified to build and preserve housing that is affordable “to people making less than half of our community’s average income.” The fund would be capped at $6 million per year and would be defined to last seven years.

Critics of the plan note that there are many programs already in place — at the local, state, and federal levels — to support affordable housing. And while it is reasonable to suggest that such programs should be streamlined, it is self-defeating to say that plenty is being done to address affordable housing; it is indisputable that there is a lack of housing in our community for the poor, and that the homeless population is growing. Many programs might be in place, but they are falling short of their goals. Vancouver has been noted for having one of the lowest rental-vacancy rates in the entire country, and any trip around the city quickly reveals an epidemic of homelessness.

The question, therefore, becomes one of how active government should be in mitigating such problems. It is reasonable to argue that government intervention often exacerbates social issues, and that the public is better served in the long run if it does not become reliant upon government to solve those issues. It also is reasonable to suggest that city government should not be a large player in the housing market, an act that can have long-lasting consequences that often are unpredictable.

Those are valid long-term arguments that must be heard. But the short-term view dictates that many of our fellow citizens are in need of help, and that a community is defined by how it cares for and supports its neediest neighbors. Allowing the homeless population to grow, allowing more and more families to live in their cars, allowing more and more people to worry that the next rent increase will leave them on the streets … these are not the hallmarks of a fully developed society.

As mentioned, Proposition 1 should not be viewed as a panacea for solving a difficult problem in Vancouver. But it should be viewed as a reasonable effort to assist needy people and an effort that will strengthen our community. We recommend a “yes” vote — but, again, that is only a recommendation.