Vancouver council focuses on homelessness

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer

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Vancouver officials took another run Monday night at trying to find some solutions to help tackle homelessness and affordable housing.

One of those, a new day-use facility for the homeless, has come up time and time again.

The most recent discussion surrounded a site owned by the Vancouver Housing Authority next to Lincoln Place. But pushback by neighbors has forced the city to reconsider. The council considered a new site Monday evening in executive session. The location of that site is unknown.

What the city does know is that time is of the essence. A new shelter hasn’t been built in Vancouver for 20 years, and the need for services and permanent shelter beds is growing.

Chad Eiken, director of Community and Economic Development, acknowledged “we’re certainly feeling a sense of urgency around this issue.”

The city has even gone as far as securing funding for the new site on its own. The center would require an estimated annual operating budget of $300,000. That financing comes from saved federal Community Development Block Grant funding.

But the city doesn’t plan to fund the shelter on its own. Vancouver will receive $150,000 from Clark County via its deed recording fees. An additional $150,000 in funding from the county has been requested because it currently has $750,000 in unallocated funding.

Peggy Sheehan, Community and Economic Development program manager, said they would like to secure three new shelters, one in each region of the city.

To dispel any rumors, Eiken said the former Tower Mall — purchased by the city earlier this year — is not up for consideration as a homeless facility. The redevelopment will likely include affordable housing, but those plans are in the beginning stages.

City Manager Eric Holmes said the proposed framework will allow the city to take action toward addressing the issue of homelessness.

“If we wait until we have all of the answers to every step to take the first step, we will never take the first step,” Holmes said.

Councilor Alishia Topper said the evening’s presentation was 3 1/2 years in the making.

“It’s been a long haul for people who are experiencing homelessness on our streets,” Topper said. “It will cost us a heck of a lot more money to do nothing.”

To help ease the affordable housing situation, the city is looking to extend the Fourth Plain Multifamily Tax Exemption Program to align with the new Vine bus rapid transit route.

“It’s our best tool to promote mixed-income housing,” Sheehan said.

She said some have proposed simply making the entire city of Vancouver a multifamily tax exemption zone, but that proposal is not possible. Instead, the city will focus on the area between North Andresen Road and Vancouver Mall.

Sheehan said this expansion was the most obvious choice given investments made into bus rapid transit. Councilor Jack Burkman said a partnership with C-Tran as the BRT line continues to expand would make sense.

Topper added she’d like city staff to come back with a timeline for expanding more affordable housing into the east side and central Vancouver.