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Monday, September 25, 2023
Sept. 25, 2023

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Renters feeling squeeze in Clark County

Almost half are cost-burdened by housing

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

Nearly half of all renters in Clark County paid $1,000 monthly on rent last year, and almost half of renters are cost-burdened by housing. As the population approaches 450,000 people, many renters are feeling the squeeze of a tight market where vacancies are down and rental costs are up, according to American Community Survey data released Wednesday.

Rent, along with utilities and other rental expenses, is typically supposed to make up 30 percent of a renter’s income. (See related stats in this Housing Costs).

“If that comes to more than 30 percent of what you’re making, that has a strong likelihood of putting you under stress,” said Steve Towell, spokesman for Vancouver Housing Authority. Those paying more may have to restrict or eliminate other expenses to afford housing, he said.

If you work full-time at minimum wage, which comes out to just under $20,000 a year, your rent would have to be under $500 to be considered affordable. The vast majority of people in that income bracket — living below the poverty level of $24,008 — are cost-burdened by their housing expenses, according to the American Community Survey data. Fewer than 5 percent of units in Clark County are rented at less than $500.

The availability of lower-cost rental units has declined over the last several years. In recent years, about 15 percent of units were priced between $500 and $749. Last year, that dropped to about 11 percent.

Clark County housing

Vacant rental units

2014: 1,517

2010: 4,663

Vacancy rate

2014: 2.4%

2010: 8.2%

Clark County poverty

Families in poverty

2014: 10%

2010: 13.9%

2013: 15.2%

Single mothers in poverty

2014: 25%

2010: 33.6%

2013: 41.1%

Source: U.S. Census

*With related children under 18

How are you doing?

Are your housing costs above 30 percent of your income?

(Yearly income × 0.3) ÷ 12 = affordable monthly housing costs

The census estimated rental vacancy was at 2.4 percent last year, or about 1,500 units — a significant drop from the 4 percent vacancy rate in 2013. At its height in 2010, there were 4,663 vacant rental units and an 8.2 percent vacancy rate.

Overall, there’s about 173,000 housing units in Clark County, including 59,000 occupied rental units.

More people in Clark County pay a monthly mortgage than pay rent. Homeowners with mortgages, however, appear less likely to be cost-burdened by their housing expenses, according to the report. About 28 percent of homeowners spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs. Homeowners are also seeing a rise in home values, from a median of $225,600 in 2013 to $239,800 in 2014.

Poverty levels decline

The American Community Survey data offered a more positive picture when it came to income and poverty levels. With the median household income estimated at $61,741, that puts the county close to pre-recession levels, said regional economist Scott Bailey. It’s an increase of a few thousand dollars from 2013.

“Anything going up is good,” Bailey said.

Last year, 10 percent of families with children were estimated to be living in poverty, compared with more than 15 percent in 2013. The poverty rate also declined among single mothers; about one-fourth reported living in poverty last year, compared with about 41 percent in 2013. Bailey takes the decline as a good sign.

“We look at the bigger picture and see what else is going on,” Bailey said. “Things are getting better in terms of more people employed, and that alone helps lower the (poverty) rate.”

In 2009, the poverty rate went up, which was from people losing their jobs, Bailey said.

The poverty rate can underestimate the number of people living in distress, Towell said. Those earning more money can still be cost-burdened by housing and struggling financially, as evident by the increase in rental costs.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith