Meanwhile, a construction boom is adding apartments to the market, but at higher rents. The new tenants are moving to Clark County and Vancouver from out of state, mostly California and Oregon.
Some of Moon’s neighbors are remote workers who work for California-based technology companies, he said. For them, rents — and home prices — are relatively cheap compared with their former communities.
“I think Vancouver is gentrifying,” Moon said. “I feel we’re going to be the next California.”
Michael Wilkerson, partner and director of analytics at ECONorthwest, studies housing markets in Vancouver, where he lives. He said the city has drastically changed in the last five to seven years, a trend that will likely continue.
Wilkerson said the increased rental rates are being partly driven by new, costlier construction of taller and more dense apartment buildings on Vancouver’s increasingly expensive land.
Jeffrey Gibbons owns a handful of small rental units in Clark County. He said he tries to raise rents only when a unit is vacated because he knows how locals are struggling with rising rates. He said he has a unit in Vancouver he could rent for $1,650, but he rents it for $1,035 a month.
“We have some people pretty close to the edge,” he said. “When we turn over a unit, we go to market rate.”
Gibbons said he’s lost money because of the eviction moratorium: One tenant cut off communication and left after 11 months of not paying, he said. Incidents like that are causing smaller, more generous landlords to get out.
“A lot of landlords are selling out,” he said. “They can get a fortune out of it now. COVID was too much.”
Gibbons, who works at Portland International Airport, said a few of his co-workers decided to buy cheaper property in Longview and commute the 50 minutes each way to PDX.
“I grew up in the San Francisco area, and I commuted a long way into work,” he said. “Now we’re going into that here as well. You can buy a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Longview for $250,000. Affordable housing? I hate to say it, but there it is.”
Vancouver’s population increase is driving rental rates; more demand fuels higher prices.
An estimated 13,600 people moved to Clark County during the pandemic, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management. About 4,900 people moved to Vancouver last year.
Wilkerson said there are 31,600 apartment units in Vancouver, and at least 1,000 more are in development or the planning stages.
“Very few of those are going to be ‘affordable,’ ” he said.
Dylan Rogers is one of the former Vancouverites who moved away because rent is too expensive. He now lives in La Grande, Ore., and it “feels more normal,” he said.
Rogers, 22, said he works at Starbucks and splits his $600 apartment rent with a roommate to save for Oregon State University’s tuition, where he hopes to enroll in about a year and a half. Living in La Grande, and pursuing remote learning from OSU, Rogers can live an affordable lifestyle in the small Eastern Oregon city, where he sees himself settling permanently.
“With everything being online now, you don’t need to be in the center of things,” he said. “You have the classic small-town feel with diners and a drive-in movie theater, but you also have the mainstream restaurants.”