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.
“We’re seeing new development, scale, density and height of the buildings,” he said. “All is predicated on rents high enough to support price of land and higher-density buildings.”
In 2012, local population growth started to pick up speed as the economy recovered from the Great Recession. Vancouver drew people with its tax advantages, its historically low housing and rent costs, and its school quality. Plus, the Pacific Northwest is a draw in general for so many other reasons, he said.
“There’s a good and a bad side to high rents. It allows construction to happen,” he said. “Rent being high enough to support construction has fueled a lot of development. If rent hadn’t increased, we wouldn’t see new construction.
“It’s not a matter of if you can stop increasing rent, but when and how to slow it down. I expect rent to slow its increase.”
Leah Halstead is the director of property and asset management for the Vancouver Housing Authority. One of its goals is assisting people who struggle to pay rent, mostly those who are on the threshold of homelessness.
“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.”