Friday, September 18, 2020
Sept. 18, 2020

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Residents place importance on Vancouver housing solution

Survey shows that new property tax is their least-favorite option

By , Columbian City Government Reporter
Published:

A majority of Vancouver residents agreed in a recent survey that the city needs to find a solution to its affordable housing issues, but establishing a new property tax to fund affordable housing programs was their least-favorite option.

During three weeks starting in mid-May, 656 people completed the four-question, nonscientific survey and provided additional written responses online and on paper.

The Vancouver City Council, which declared an affordable housing emergency April 11, is poised to decide Monday whether to put an affordable housing levy out for a public vote in November. City staff have held four open public forums and two neighborhood meetings about the proposed tax, attracting 150 total attendees.

At a rate of 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, the proposed levy would generate $6 million per year for seven years. The revenue would be put into 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 money would be used to support families earning a maximum of 50 percent of the area’s median income, which is $33,750 a year for a family of four.

About 77 percent of survey respondents said it was “very important” or “important” to find solutions to housing issues. About 22 percent said it was not very important or not important at all, while 1 percent said they didn’t know.

Roughly 79 percent agreed the cost of housing in Vancouver has made it difficult for seniors, families with children, people who are disabled and other low-income residents to find housing. About 72 percent agreed Vancouver has an insufficient supply of housing for those groups.

Given a menu of options, participants were asked to choose the top two remedies they felt could help the city address affordable housing the most. An affordable housing tax ranked last.

• 50 percent favored a change in current development regulations to promote a range of affordable housing types.

• 47 percent favored a new requirement that some affordable units be included when new multifamily developments are built.

• 36 percent favored expanding tax incentive programs to encourage development of more affordable housing.

• 26 percent favored new voter-approved money to establish an affordable housing fund.

Those who favored the affordable housing fund said it would help seniors and children; existing resources are insufficient; the market wouldn’t serve the most vulnerable; it would be a catalyst for additional public/private investment; the other policy approaches don’t target the very low-income; and it would lead to reduced medical and jail costs related to homelessness. They said it would provide an opportunity for the city to lead on a regional issue.

Those who feel the fund is not the right approach said it may displace fixed-income homeowners, the tax could be passed on to renters, and home prices could rise. They said the area needed jobs and better education to raise incomes; developers should bear the costs of affordable housing; the city should provide incentives, not taxes; and the market would correct on its own.

Respondents frequently mentioned wanting to impose a residency requirement to limit help to current community members.

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