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In Our View: Housing Epidemic

Latest evictions show need to address lack of affordable dwellings locally

The Columbian
Published: September 15, 2015, 6:01am

The difficult situation at Ghim Village in Hazel Dell is a symptom of an epidemic in Clark County — a lack of affordable housing in the area.

Last week, Seattle-based Madrona Ridge Residential, which recently took over ownership of the low-income townhouse complex, delivered eviction notices to more than 50 residents. Inhabitants were given 22 days to vacate the facility, leaving them scrambling to find quarters in an extremely tight housing market.

If this sounds like a repeat from several months ago, that’s because it is. Last December, Madrona Ridge evicted hundreds of residents from the Courtyard Village Apartments, providing them with the legal minimum of 20 days’ notice. That action created a generous response from the public that included an emergency fund to assist displaced residents. But, as Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless, said in the wake of the Ghim Village action: “This isn’t a one-time problem. This is going to keep happening in our current housing market. It’s hard to sustain the type of response that was done for Courtyard Village.”

With Vancouver’s apartment vacancy estimated at roughly 2 percent, landlords have incentive to evict low-income residents, renovate apartments and increase rents while being secure in the knowledge that the market can bear the increase. That is a situation that can leave our most vulnerable neighbors out in the cold. It also is a situation that transfers some burden from renters to taxpayers, as people unable to land adequate housing require increased public assistance. One example can be found in the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act, a federal law that requires displaced students to be bused to their current school in order to minimize the disruption in their lives.

Because of that, the evictions at Ghim Village are not simply a matter of a management company attempting to maximize profits and taking advantage of the free-market system. They are a matter of public policy, a big-city problem that is creating turmoil in our midsized city.

With that in mind, the Vancouver City Council has convened an Affordable Housing Task Force, which has drafted ordinances to help protect vulnerable renters. Among the ideas is increasing the 20-day minimum for vacate notices, and that idea should be adopted. It is incomprehensible to imagine a family arriving home to find an eviction notice and realizing they have less than three weeks to find new housing and move out. For many, the only realistic option would be homelessness. At the same time, it should be noted that Ghim Village sits outside the city limits, which calls for a broad approach to the problem.

While trying to balance the rights of landlords with the needs of residents, the task force also must focus on increasing the availability of housing in the area. Several major cities across the county have adopted requirements mandating that developers include low-income housing along with upscale, profit-generating housing, and Vancouver should enact similar plans that match the needs of this region. A 2013 Harvard University study indicated that the national demand for low-income housing is more than twice the supply of such housing; since then, a continuing upturn in the economy has only exacerbated the problem.

While the evictions at Ghim Village are merely a symptom of a larger societal issue, they represent one that calls for action. Affordable housing for vulnerable citizens should be regarded as one of the primary duties of society.