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Feb. 27, 2021

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Report finds affordable housing increasingly out of reach in Clark County

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published:

The amount of money renters must earn to afford a place to live in Clark County continues to rise, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual Out of Reach report.

A renter needs to earn a full-time, hourly wage of $22.92 or annual salary of $47,680 to afford a studio apartment, estimated to cost $1,192, according to the report released this week. For a one-bedroom apartment, the price of affordability rises to $24.79 hourly or $51,560 annually. In this case, affordable means renters don’t spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

“That figure is basically recognizing there are other costs that households need to cover as part of their overall income,” said Kate Budd, executive director of the local Council for the Homeless and board member at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which helped release the report.

Other costs include food, transportation, student loans and leisure.

As the cost of housing continues to rise, Budd said units become less accessible to people with lower incomes, such as those living off $823 in monthly Social Security payments or veteran’s benefits. The report says a minimum wage earner would need to work 68 hours weekly at $13.50 hourly to afford a studio apartment in Clark County. Youth and seniors often struggle the most in affording rent because they have the lowest incomes.

Someone working full time at Clark County’s mean renter wage of $16.79 per hour could afford a monthly rent of $873 or less.

The report says the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., area is the second most expensive in the state behind the Seattle-Bellevue area. Budd attributes this to Vancouver being part of a major metropolitan region lacking enough housing and diversity of housing to meet the need. While single-family homes and multifamily apartments are readily built, there aren’t many other options such as duplexes, townhouses or single-occupancy units available for people at different income levels.

Budd would like to see continued focus on creating more housing options for people and providing rental assistance. Shared housing may be the only option some people can afford without subsidy — particularly those exiting homelessness — but there isn’t a formal resource for people seeking shared housing. Faith Partners for Housing made progress on a shared housing program, which was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Expensive to move

Despite interventions such as Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund building and rehabilitating rental units in the city, rents continue to rise each year. Budd said it’s so expensive to move that renters are typically staying put. They aren’t moving into more expensive units or purchasing homes.

“The pandemic is exacerbating all these challenges that existed before COVID-19,” Budd said. “It’s just another good reminder that those, especially those with lower incomes, are on the edge of stability.”

The Out of Reach report uses Fair Market Rents from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Lyn Ayers, secretary at the Clark County Rental Association, considers to be skewed.

“In Clark County, we don’t see any rents that high,” he said.

That is, with the exception of new buildings in Vancouver’s downtown area, waterfront and Uptown Village. A unit’s newness and location are major cost factors, Ayers said, and something to consider when looking for a place to live.

He wonders if Out of Reach also takes into consideration move-in incentives, such as a free month of rent (which shakes out to about an 8 percent discount on rent over the course of a year). Those incentives aren’t too frequent, Ayers acknowledged, as demand for available rentals remains high.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
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