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Vancouver Housing Authority makes progress on townhouse plans

Agency will directly aid families seeking to become homeowners

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: March 12, 2019, 6:00am

For the first time in more than a decade, Vancouver Housing Authority will directly help families become homeowners.

A subsidiary of the public agency, Vancouver Affordable Housing Nonprofit, is moving along with plans for an eight-unit townhouse development in central Vancouver. Saeed Hajarizadeh, deputy director of the housing authority and executive director of Vancouver Affordable Housing Nonprofit, said he’s been working since 2016 on the project originally envisioned for downtown Vancouver.

Since then the proposed project moved to another site on 51st Street, which was deemed too expensive to develop, and then to its final spot off Nicholson Road. The land was transferred from the Southwest Washington Community Land Trust to Vancouver Housing Authority. The plan is to keep the existing rental home on the property and subdivide the rest of the land into eight lots for two to three-bedroom townhouses.

Vancouver Affordable Housing Nonprofit aims to sell these homes to families who earn between 65 and 85 percent of area median income, which would be about $52,910 to $69,190, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2018 income guidelines. The aim is to target renters who would not otherwise be able to get out of the rental market and become homeowners.

“Homeownership is difficult to obtain for lower-income working families,” Hajarizadeh said.

According to RMLS’ Market Action Report, the median sale price of a home was $355,000 in January, a cost that’s out of reach for many families.

Columbia Non-Profit Housing, another subsidiary of Vancouver Housing Authority, ended its homeownership program in 2008 as the recession was setting in and homebuilding fell.

Since then, more has been learned about the best practices around homeownership assistance programs. The land trust model is popular across the country, Hajarizadeh said. It ensures the home will remain affordable long term, so when it’s resold it’ll go to another lower-income family.

Vancouver Affordable Housing Nonprofit plans to partner with Proud Ground to adopt this model. The Portland-based nonprofit will market and sell the eight townhouses.

Vancouver Affordable Housing Nonprofit is trying to keep the homes below market-rate, aiming to sell the two-bedroom homes for $230,000 and the three-bedroom homes for $265,000. (New townhouses in the urban core tend to be priced at least 10 percent higher. For instance, a new three-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bathroom townhouse in east Minnehaha currently is listed for $301,900 on RMLS.)

Depending on the homeowners’ financial situation, they could get down payment assistance of up to $55,000. So, a $230,000 home becomes a $175,000 home and monthly mortgage payments are lower.

Community Development Block Grant funds from the city of Vancouver and federal Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program grants will lower the purchase price of each home, depending on what families can afford. Hajarizadeh said he’s also looking to apply for other down payment assistance grants.

Hajarizadeh said the model differs from Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, another Vancouver-based nonprofit that has its own “niche and formula” of boosting homeownership.

Vancouver Housing Authority board members have debated whether helping families become homeowners is within the housing authority’s purview. The agency’s mission is to provide opportunities to people who experience barriers to housing due to income, disability or special needs.

Homeownership, Hajarizadeh said, is a way to build assets and “building assets is an important part of pulling yourself out of poverty.”

He’s hopeful that the project — despite its delays in securing land — will prove a successful model.

“We hope for this to be successful so we can do it again,” he said.

Construction is slated to start in September.

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