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Housing, population out of sync in Clark County

County’s 176,517 units don’t keep pace with rise in residents; more homes on way

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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Herby, at 1510 C St., is one of several apartment projects planned for downtown Vancouver that will provide new housing that's in high demand.
Herby, at 1510 C St., is one of several apartment projects planned for downtown Vancouver that will provide new housing that's in high demand. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County’s housing crisis hinges on the lack of available and affordable housing. It begs the question: Just how many residences are there right now in Clark County?

Ken Pearrow, county GIS coordinator, said there are 176,517 housing units, which includes both single-family homes and units within a multifamily complex. That’s more than the estimate the Census publicly released today, using numbers from July 2015, of 174,688 housing units.

The Census shows Clark County’s population is rising, too, which creates more housing demand. Population estimates for 2016 aren’t yet available, but at the last estimate in 2015 Clark County was believed to have just under 460,000 residents.

The county’s population grew about 2 percent from 2014 to 2015, a gain of more than 9,000 people. At the same time, the number of places to live grew by just over 1 percent, which comes out to a little less than 2,000 housing units, according to Census estimates. Statewide, the number of housing units grew by less than 1 percent, or about 29,000 units, from 2014 to 2015, while population grew by 1.5 percent or 107,000 people.

The supply of housing on the market, including proposed and under-construction homes, is enough to meet demand for 1.8 months, according to the April “Market Action” report for Clark County by RMLS, the regional real estate listing service. A healthy stock of homes for sale covers four to six months, said Terry Wollam, managing broker at ReMax Equity Group/Wollam & Associates.

Residential building permits are catching up to — or in some jurisdictions exceeding — the number of permits issued in the years leading up to the recession. Wollam predicts that Clark County will be able to build its way out of the housing shortage and prices will eventually mellow out in 2018. However, he said, it can take years to get a house permitted and then built. So, a home that’s permitted today won’t be available for a while and won’t satiate today’s demand.

New homes make up about 26 percent of the market’s stock, Wollam said.

Permits increasing

The increase in residential building permits offers an idea of how many houses could be added to the market in the next few years.

• In the first four months of this year, Clark County’s permit center issued 450 permits for single-family homes in unincorporated Clark County. Last year, the county totaled 1,245 single-family home permits, which is the same amount that was issued in 2007 before the economic downtown. The county reached a low of 348 single-family home permits in 2011, before permits began to rise again.

• In 2007, the city of Vancouver issued 419 permits for single-family residences and 435 apartment units. New home permits dipped to a low of 98 single-family and 84 multifamily permits in 2011. Nowadays, residential development in Vancouver tends to favor multifamily buildings. Last year, the city issued permits for 366 new homes and 705 apartment units.

Apartment developers are particularly active in the downtown area. Several projects are under construction, including the 92-unit 13 West Apartments at Columbia Street and Mill Plain Boulevard, the 18-unit Herby complex at 1510 C St., and the 48-unit Midtown apartment building at 509 E. 16th St.

• Homebuilding is gaining traction in Camas, where 235 new single-family home permits were issued last year. Subdivisions all over the city of 21,200 have vacant lots, said permit technician Jeanette Kreighbaum.

• Battle Ground has seen growth in new home permits over the last few years, particularly for multifamily units as the city becomes more urban. Last year, the city of 19,250 people permitted 198 new multifamily units and 64 single-family units. A significant chunk of those apartments are at Alder Pointe, which is supposed to open this spring off state Highway 503 and Scotton Way. That’s in contrast with 2007, when Battle Ground issued 101 permits for new single-family homes but none for multifamily projects. So far this year, the city has issued permits for 43 single-family homes and 52 multifamily units (most of which are going to be more units at Alder Pointe).

• Washougal reached a low of 22 new housing units in 2009 after permitting 272 new houses and apartments just two years prior. The city of some 15,000 people is on the rebound, having permitted 97 new houses last year, according to its community development department.

Robert Angelo, a Washougal developer, proposed building a three-story apartment complex on a vacant lot at 2340 Main St.; that project is under review.

• In Ridgefield, new home permits are surging and the planning department is busier than ever. In 2009, the city issued just 27 permits for single-family homes. In the first four months of this year, the city of 6,400 people has issued 146 permits. The city may pass its peak of 313 new home permits issued in 2005.

• For the first time since 2007, a new subdivision broke ground in La Center, a city of about 3,100 people. Construction started on the 14-lot Dana Heights subdivision in the downtown area earlier this month. Permit specialist Naomi Hansen said she expects to see more activity this year as there are 25 lots in existing subdivisions that could be developed at any time.

So far this year, La Center has issued permits for seven single-family homes and seven multifamily units comprising a triplex and two duplexes.

There are two other new subdivisions that could break ground this summer, Hansen said, one on the east side of town and one on the west side, that together account for 157 new lots.

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Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith