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May 15, 2021

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6 takeaways about housing in Clark County

Census estimates show changes since Great Recession

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published:

Five-year estimates released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau show how things have changed since the Great Recession, and reveal some of the factors driving Clark County’s saturated housing market.

Here are six takeaways from the newly released data.

Wages are stagnant

Among all of the cities in Clark County, Vancouver had the lowest median household income in 2014 at $50,379, according to Census estimates. Median household income has hovered around $50,000 since 2007.

Wages appear to be stagnant in some of the smaller cities. Washougal’s median income has stayed between $60,000 and $63,000 over the last five years, according to the estimates. Median wages in Battle Ground have hovered between $55,000 and $60,000. Income is higher in La Center; median income was estimated to be $71,948 in 2014, which is much higher than the state’s median income of $60,294.

Childless, married couples are bringing in the most money in Camas, where the median household income is $108,071 — about twice the national level.

Renters tend to have lower incomes than homeowners. In Vancouver, where most renters are concentrated, the median income of renter-occupied households was $33,774 in 2007 and $37,604 in 2014. That’s an increase of about 11 percent. Renters in Washougal are estimated to have the lowest median incomes, $37,390, and pay a median rent of $1,035.

Rent is going up

This one is obvious for anyone clued into the local rental market. Increased demand for rental housing, along with low vacancy rates, have led to increased prices. Wages haven’t gone up as much as rent has, leading people to spend a bigger chunk of their paycheck on housing.

Back in 2007, Vancouver’s median rent was $787. In 2014, it was $955, a 21 percent increase over seven years.

“This is very much a two-part problem. There’s the income side and the housing cost side,” said Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless. “It’s that disconnect that’s causing this problem.”

The newly released Census data only goes through 2014, which doesn’t account for the increased costs people weathered this year.

Cost-burdened renters

Renters are more likely to be burdened by their housing costs than homeowners. Nearly half of all renter households in Vancouver earn less than $35,000 annually. For a single, working person that equates to almost $17 per hour.

Housing is considered affordable if the household spends 30 percent or less of their income on rent, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than half of all renters in Vancouver, however, break that 30 percent rule and are considered cost-burdened by housing. The lower the household income, the more likely they are to be cost-burdened. For those renter-occupied households earning less than $35,000 annually in Vancouver, 86 percent of them are cost-burdened by housing.

This trend is consistent across the county, except in Ridgefield and La Center, which have few rentals and few households earning less than $35,000 annually.

As income increases, people are more likely to be homeowners than renters, and they’re less likely to be burdened by housing costs.

Most owner-occupied households earning at least $75,000 spend less than 20 percent of their income on housing costs, which means it’s affordable for them. Very few renters at that income level — about 1 percent — are cost burdened by housing.

Homeownership down

Homeownership has decreased from 68.7 percent in 2009 to 64.9 percent in 2014. La Center had the highest homeownership rate at 81.9 percent in 2014, while Vancouver had the lowest at 50.3 percent.

The decline in homeownership reflects a national trend, but the rate is right around where it was a few decades ago, said Mike Lamb, certified residential specialist with Windermere. Homeownership rates change slowly and likely will continue to represent at least 60 percent of households, he said.

“We have to kind of keep this in perspective,” Lamb said, adding that multiple factors play into homeownership rates. “Now, we’re seeing prices going up and inventory going down.”

The number of homeowners in Clark County went down nearly 2 percent between 2009 and 2014, while the number of renters went up 24 percent, according to Census estimates.

Take into consideration the fact that the county gained an estimated 22,607 people during that same time period. Last year, Clark County’s population was believed to be 438,272.

Higher rent, pay in small cities

Camas and Ridgefield residents tend to have higher rents, but they also have higher incomes to pay for those rents.

In 2014, renter-occupied households in Camas earned a median income of $46,297 and paid a median rent of $1,058. In Ridgefield, renter-occupied households earned $65,944 and paid $1,354 in rent, according to Census data.

Median incomes for both homeowners and renters continue to rise in these attractive bedroom communities. Ridgefield had the highest median household income at $91,205. The small city has few multifamily rental units, so most renters are renting single-family homes.

Likewise, poverty levels in Camas and Ridgefield are lower than they are around the rest of the county. Last year, an estimated 5.8 percent of people in either city were living below the poverty level, which is $24,230 for a four-person household. In 2014, Vancouver had the highest estimated poverty level at 15.7 percent, with Battle Ground a few percentage points behind at 12.2 percent.

Women earning less than men

In Clark County, there are estimated to be nearly 18,000 families headed by a woman with no husband present. Women in Clark County continue to earn less than men, reflecting a long-term national trend. In 2014, the median income of women in Clark County was $40,747, whereas men earned $53,971. Women are less likely to be employed, especially if they have young children.

Most households headed by a single person that qualify for Section 8 housing assistance are headed by women, according to the Vancouver Housing Authority. The average income for single-parent households is $18,458.

“A lot of the time they’re working pretty much minimum wage or part time,” said Steve Towell, spokesman for VHA.

Women consistently earn less than men in every industry, except for food preparation. Women who’ve just graduated high school and have not attended any college fare far worse than male high school graduates. Regional economist Scott Bailey said that women tend to be concentrated in lower-wage occupations in the lowest-paid industries.

Men with graduate or professional degrees living in Camas are the highest group of earners; their median income is $108,654. Camas women with the same level of education, however, earn about half of that. In Battle Ground, women with graduate or professional degrees earn less than men who’ve only completed some college, or have an associate degree. Part of the disconnect could come from women earning degrees in fields that typically pay less, or that their careers could be interrupted by childbearing, Bailey said.

Margins of error

The American Community Survey data, which includes city-level and neighborhood-level information from 2010 to 2014, has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the error margins. Smaller Census areas, including neighborhoods and small cities such as La Center, are more likely to contain errors.

The next national Census will be done in 2020.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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