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Oct. 25, 2020

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Vancouver rents mostly flat early in pandemic

City’s median rental rates higher than those in Portland

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:

Apartment rental prices in Vancouver have remained relatively flat during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, with median prices for most apartment sizes dropping by negligible amounts, according to the latest report from the online service Apartment List.

Median rents for May stood at $1,278 for a studio apartment, $1,422 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,678 for a two-bedroom. All three prices have followed the same pattern so far this year, according to Apartment List’s data: rising consistently through March, then falling in April and May.

The declines are slight, however; in each category, the current median price is only $2 below the March high point, and remains higher than the reported median in January.

Vancouver’s year-over-year rent growth remains in positive territory, at 0.7 percent. For comparison, Apartment List found that Washington’s rate is 1.1 percent and the national rate is 0.8 percent. However, the 0.7 percent growth rate is lower compared with some of Vancouver’s results in recent years; in February 2019, the year-over-year growth rate was 1.7 percent.

The Apartment List monthly report offers a detailed snapshot to compare rents among cities in the Portland metro area, although the company cautions that the listing information from its website tends to skew toward luxury apartments.

Vancouver’s median rental rates are higher than those in Portland, which saw a one-bedroom rent of $1,120 and a two-bedroom rent of $1,320 in May. Those figures put Vancouver more on par with Seattle, which saw a median two-bedroom rent of about $1,690 in May.

However, Vancouver falls toward the bottom of the pack among Portland metro area cities listed in the report, with higher rents than Gresham and Forest Grove but lower rents than in the Oregon cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, Tualatin, Wilsonville, Gladstone and Fairview.

Vancouver’s April and May rental rate declines coincide with the onset of the pandemic, but the Apartment List report does not offer any suggestions or conclusions as whether the two are related.

It’s also too soon to tell whether the decline represents a change in direction for the market — Apartment List’s data shows that the median rent in Vancouver has been on a fairly consistent upward climb for several years, but there have been previous instances during that time where the rates have held steady or dropped for multiple months in a row.

West Coast commercial real estate firm Kidder Matthews conducted a separate survey in early May, quizzing multifamily residential landlords in Oregon and Southwest Washington about how COVID-19 had impacted their rates for new leases.

According to the survey report, 67.7 percent of landlords reported their rental rates were about the same, with 22.6 percent reporting slightly lower rates and 9.7 percent reporting slightly higher rates. None of them reported significant changes in either direction.

Rent out of reach

In a separate report, Apartment List found that renters nationally have been struggling to make rent payments during the pandemic. The company began conducting a monthly housing affordability survey after the pandemic began, polling 4,000 renters and homeowners about whether they had been able to pay their bills.

The first round of the survey found that 12 percent of renters made no payment during the first week of April and another 12 percent were only able to make a partial payment. The second round found that in the first week of May, 22 percent of renters had made no payment and 9 percent had made only a partial payment.

The majority of April’s missing payments were eventually made up later in the month, according to Apartment List, but the difficulties persisted. The report found 70 percent of respondents who were late on their April payments were also late in May, and among those who were never able to complete their April payments, 92 percent were unable to make a full and on-time payment for May.

The report also found that the negative rent impacts fell hardest on lower-income families and people who couldn’t work from home or could only do so part of the time.

The Kidder Matthews report found that rent collection actually improved from April to May for multifamily units in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

The number of properties with unpaid rent decreased by about 5 percent from April to May both in Portland and its suburbs, although that number increased in May for properties outside the Portland metro area.

“In comparing our submarket results to national studies, Oregon and Southwest Washington appear to be faring about 3 (percent) better than the nation as a whole,” the company wrote in its report.

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