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Lebowsky, Paulsen sworn in to Vancouver City Council

Councilors listen to report on Affordable Housing Fund recommendations

By , Columbian politics reporter
3 Photos
Councilor Erik Paulsen takes the oath of office and is sworn in to the Vancouver City Council by Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson on Monday.
Councilor Erik Paulsen takes the oath of office and is sworn in to the Vancouver City Council by Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson on Monday. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Nestled in between workshops, the pledge of allegiance and public hearings, the Vancouver City Council formally swore in two of its members Monday evening.

For Councilor Laurie Lebowsky, the swearing-in ceremony was her second in two years marking the end of her journey from applicant, to appointee to candidate for office and eventually elected official.

For Councilor Erik Paulsen, it was the beginning of the same journey Lebowsky just completed. Paulsen was appointed to the council Jan. 14 to replace former Councilor Alishia Topper, who was elected Clark County treasurer in 2018 and resigned her seat.

Paulsen will need to seek election in November and if he, like Lebowsky, wins office, will be sworn in once again come 2020.

Both took their oath of office with the help of Clark County Superior Court Judge David Gregerson, who noted his particular delight in swearing in Paulsen, an eighth-grade classmate of his.

Affordable housing

Among many issues facing council Monday evening was the next round of Affordable Housing Fund distributions. The fund was created in 2016 by voters to help provide affordable housing in a city with the region’s lowest vacancy rate. The AHF generates $6 million for seven years to help pay for housing.

Vancouver’s Community Development Program Manager Peggy Sheehan said the first round of awarded funding, totaling $4 million, created 265 additional units — 199 of which are affordable to people who earn less than 50 percent of the area median income.

Looking forward, Sheehan said the city is going to try something a little different. Rather than award funding for just 2019, the city combined its 2019 and 2020 housing production and housing preservation fund. The total available is about $8 million, but the city is proposing to allocate $6 million at this time for 15 projects.

“We’ve been trying to figure out ways we can make this fund be the most flexible funding we have through city funding,” Sheehan said.

Staff will keep $2 million unallocated just in case a project comes forward in 2019 that had not previously applied.

“We didn’t want to shut any projects out,” Sheehan said.

Particularly, she added, any projects that need local funding to qualify for tax credits available for new affordable housing construction.

The 15 projects include rehabilitation of existing senior and low-income housing, several new construction projects and proposals to acquire land as the first step to building additional affordable units.

Sheehan said if the council approves funding as proposed by staff for all 15 projects, an additional 352 units would be created that are affordable to those making 50 percent the area median income and 513 units in total with rents set between 30 percent of area median income and market rates. The funding approval would also leverage another $114 million in other funding sources, she said.

The council was overall pleased with the results of the fund’s first year, but acknowledged it’s just a first step.

“The need in our community is multiple times larger than the units that are created here,” said Councilor Ty Stober. “It’s important for us to keep in mind this is just a small portion of a larger solution we have to find in this whole situation.”

The proposed allocation will come back to council Feb. 4 for approval.

Columbian politics reporter

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