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Aug. 15, 2022

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Vancouver Housing Authority invests in affordable townhouses

Board’s lone dissenting member sparks debate over agency’s mission

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

Vancouver Housing Authority looks to help local low-income families become first-time homebuyers. On Thursday the agency’s board of commissioners approved a $200,000 line of credit to Vancouver Affordable Housing Nonprofit to purchase a 0.93-acre parcel in the Minnehaha neighborhood that would be developed into seven or eight townhouses.

Saeed Hajarizadeh, deputy director of Vancouver Housing Authority, said the loan would be repaid when the homes sell.

A private contractor would pay for the construction costs, which would be cheaper than having the housing authority as the developer, Hajarizadeh said. Monthly home payments would be kept affordable to a family earning 65 percent of area median income. For a family of four, that’s an annual income of $48,555 and a total monthly mortgage payment of $1,268 on a $237,500 townhouse. Families would get down-payment grants and assistance through the federal Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program.

Hajarizadeh said in an interview with The Columbian that it’s been about a decade since the housing authority has done anything related to homeownership.

The loan was approved with one dissenting vote from commissioner Greg Kimsey, who prompted a debate about what the mission of the housing authority is and how to define “barriers to housing.”

“I will not support this because I see this as outside VHA’s mission,” Kimsey said.

A boardroom wall displays the agency’s mission: “Our mission is to provide opportunities to people who experience barriers to housing because of income, disability, or special needs. It is our goal to fulfill that mission in an environment which preserves personal dignity and in a manner which maintains the public trust.”

Kimsey said the mission statement doesn’t say anything about homeownership and that the families who would be purchasing the townhouses do not have barriers to housing.

Commissioner Joan Caley disagreed, saying housing ranges from shelter to homeownership. Coming up with a down payment for a home could be a barrier for a lower-income family.

“Homeownership is a type of housing. I think that’s where we can interpret that mission statement a little differently,” she said. “With this kind of program I think it gives some hope to people that the possibility of actually owning a home might be possible for them.”

After the vote, Kimsey said the housing authority should clarify its mission statement.

There remains a feasibility study and final approval from the board before the townhouse project moves forward.

Homeownership townhouses were originally envisioned as part of a multi-family project at 16th and D streets in downtown Vancouver. The land’s value has increased dramatically since the board approved exploring the idea in June 2015 and the median price of homes in Vancouver has risen, as well, so it doesn’t make economic sense there anymore, Hajarizadeh said. Consequently, this summer the board agreed to table the idea of building homes in downtown Vancouver.

Instead, the housing authority requested and received new proposals to build rental apartments on the vacant lot, which is bordered by 16th, 17th, D and E streets.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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