The Vancouver City Council declared a housing emergency for very low-income households Monday, paving the way to ask voters to pass an affordable housing property tax in November.
The goal would be to create a fund for the buying, building and preservation of low-income rental housing and homelessness prevention in the form of rental assistance and housing services. The idea was recommended by the Affordable Housing Task Force, which formed last year after public outcry over mass notices to vacate at apartment complexes left tenants scrambling to find housing.
So far, no one has offered specifics on what the proposed levy rate would be or how long it would be in effect.
“Regardless of what we put together, the voters decide. … This council will not. We’ll just give people the option to vote,” Councilor Alishia Topper said.
The first step in moving ahead with a ballot measure was for the council to declare an emergency with respect to the availability of housing for households making 50 percent of the area’s median income or below, which is $33,750 a year for a family of four. In Vancouver, 13,855 rental households fall into that category.
Vancouver has a housing vacancy rate of less than 2 percent and the fastest rent growth in the nation. Thousands of households are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, spending more than half their income on housing. Demand for subsidized housing is so high that the Vancouver Housing Authority has begun using a lottery system limited to applicants with the highest needs, according to the city.
The median household income in Vancouver rose 3.1 percent over the last five years, while average rental costs skyrocketed 38.3 percent, according to the city. About 690 people are homeless in Clark County, based on preliminary numbers from this year’s point-in-time homeless count.
The current median rents are $990 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,070 for a two-bedroom unit. State law prohibits putting a cap on rents, City Attorney Bronson Potter said.
Monday, the council directed city staff to direct an affordable housing financing plan for how the tax revenue would be managed and spent. In the next couple of months, the council will consider a ballot resolution. If that’s approved, the council must provide a ballot title and explanatory statement to the county auditor’s office by Aug. 2.
By state law, the maximum levy rate the council could seek would be 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for up to 10 years, which would increase the annual property taxes on a $200,000 home by $100 starting in 2017.
Roughly 25 people wore red to the council meeting to show their support for the ballot measure.
“Please don’t wait any longer. It’s a really important issue,” Vancouver resident Carrie Parks said.
One woman spoke against it, asking, “Where are you going to put me when you tax me out of my home?”