Vancouver wants older properties fixed up for low-income renters

City looks to expand its housing rehab program as housing supply keeps getting older

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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Just like people, houses get old. The ’70s were a popular time to build in Clark County, and it’s no surprise that many homes built then need repairs. However, the biggest building boom was in the ’90s, and the city of Vancouver is starting to help homeowners fix up their homes built in that decade.

The youngest house that took part in the city’s federally funded housing rehab program was built in 1998. Using the levy-funded Affordable Housing Fund that voters approved in November, the city will be able to expand that rehab program to rentals. That means landlords can apply to get money to update their properties, so long as they rent to households earning 50 percent of the area median income or less, which currently would come out to $37,359 for a family of four.

The thing is, more agencies are interested in using the Affordable Housing Fund to build new housing — not preserve what already exists. While the city got about $5.38 million worth of applications from those interested in constructing new housing, there were only three applications totaling $459,000 for rehab projects. And one of those three likely won’t be able to get funding because the organization is heavily faith-based.

Originally, the city looked to spend about $1.6 million annually on housing preservation with a portion going toward rehab.

“When we put the plan together, it was based on what we knew at that time,” said Peggy Sheehan, Vancouver’s community and economic development programs manager. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do housing preservation. We just didn’t get many applications for that.”

More outreach

For the next round of funding, the city plans to do more outreach to property owners to see if they’re interested in working with the city to rehab properties and rent them to people with lower incomes. Sheehan would like to do a rolling application period where she could approach smaller, private rental communities that may be up for rehab financing. Homeowners could also use the Affordable Housing Fund money if they fit the income criteria.

“We hope to be able to help more people,” Sheehan said. “It helps sustain and maintain our housing stock.”

Through the federal program, the city has already been able to help people keep living in their homes, whether that means replacing a roof, redoing a bathroom or building a wheelchair ramp. Rumored cuts to Community Development Block Grants, which fund the federal program, could mean that the Affordable Housing Fund may take on a greater share of those rehab projects.

“This is the first time since we’ve been doing it that we’re going to have a major fund increase,” Sheehan said.

On Aug. 14, the Vancouver City Council will be doing a workshop looking at the 10 projects that applied for Affordable Housing Fund financing. Projects will be approved later this summer.

Jeff Talbott hates to see anybody living on the streets and has some people crashing at his house in Hazel Dell. He also runs recovery-based transitional housing at properties around the county.

His nonprofit Kleen Street Recovery applied for $335,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund to update 10 duplexes at 2212 Carlson Road. The place is near other older homes and apartment complexes and shares a fence with city property. The 20-unit complex in central Vancouver is owned by Pinewood Apartment Association Inc., but the owner would enter into a lease agreement where the units would be put in Talbott’s name.

‘Paycheck to paycheck’

Like other rundown rentals in Vancouver, there’s peeling paint, water damage, leaky roofs and old appliances. Although it’s an eyesore, complexes like this tend to have more affordable rent than new and well-maintained developments.

“These are all low-income people here who struggle paycheck to paycheck,” Talbott said.

The on-site property manager, John McDonald, knows people judge the complex based on how it looks. He and his sister recently took over the complex and have been working to improve the grounds and remove trash that people dumped at the property.

“It’d be great to get them all up to par,” McDonald said.

Nobody currently living at the complex is getting kicked out, but Kleen Street is taking over units as people leave. Already a few of the units are in his name housing Kleen Street clients, and he’s invested some money in doing piecemeal upgrades.

“These were in really, really bad shape,” he said.

With limited funding, the process is slow. He gets a lot of supplies from the Clark County Habitat for Humanity Store to cut costs.

Talbott plans to replace all the roofs, windows, flooring and the fencing around the property, remove the popcorn ceilings, retexture the walls and update the appliances and heating systems. The city money, he said, will allow him to do a higher-quality, thorough job and get it done faster than if Kleen Street was funding everything on its own.

Maryann Miller, a Kleen Street client and Army veteran, has lived in one of the units for four months.

“I like it. This place is comfortable,” she said. “I’m doing something now instead of nothing.”

She is looking forward to the duplexes getting remodeled and the neighborhood improving. Miller spent a long time incarcerated, but now she has a home, a garden and recently landed a job at a factory.

Besides Kleen Street, Community Services Northwest looks to update its three rental properties, two of which are inside city limits. If the nonprofit is given the $89,000 it’s requesting from the Affordable Housing Fund, the plan is to use the funds to do some updates that include plumbing, flooring and outside painting. Amy Morrison, Community Services Northwest’s housing and homeless services program manager, said the units they manage house people coming out of homelessness who are typically on tight fixed incomes. One property was built in 1946 and the other in 1997.

“The biggest benefit for rehabbing the housing units is to be able to make the needed updates without having to raise rents,” Morrison said in an email.