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Clark County strategy for growth, housing takes shape

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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4 Photos
Workers lend a hand to a house under construction on Jan. 27 in the Felida Overlook neighborhood.
Workers lend a hand to a house under construction on Jan. 27 in the Felida Overlook neighborhood. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The unincorporated urban neighborhoods just north of Vancouver will need more than 13,200 housing units in the next 15 years, according to early findings in an ongoing study by Clark County.

Last year, the county Council approved the Housing Options Study and Action Plan, which is aiming to identify barriers in the housing market and formulate options for residents with low and moderate incomes. Roughly 159,000 people live in the study area, which includes Felida, Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek.

On Tuesday, the study’s project advisory group, which met for the first time in January, heard about the consultant’s early findings on housing supply, demand and needs.

To meet the projected need for 13,281 housing units, an average of 885 units would need to be created in the area every year over the next 15 years, said Tyler Bump, a project director with Portland-based EcoNorthwest consulting firm.

The projection is based on an estimated current shortage of 2,571 units and a future need for 10,710 units. The study is projecting a population growth of 24,989 people by 2035, following a faster-than-expected growth of 17,777 people between 2015 and 2020.

“There’s been more households that have moved to the area than housing units built,” Bump said.

Consultants have found that nearly 47 percent of households in the area make at least 120 percent of the area median income, or $105,480 for a four-person household. Another 38 percent earn between 50 percent and 120 percent of the area median income, a range of $43,950 to $105,480 for a four-person household.

“A lot of people in the Vancouver UGA are in this, sort of, middle-income range, which is sort of a reflection of the market and the housing availability and the pricing for housing within the Vancouver (Urban Growth Area) compared to Clark County and the region,” Bump said.

Consultants have projected, in accordance with those statistics, that nearly half of new housing in the next 15 years will need to attract residents making 120 percent of area median income.

“We want to make sure there’s enough housing available for these different income categories,” Bump said. “If we don’t create enough housing for these 120-percent AMI (area median income ) households, the higher-income households, they’re going to put pressure on lower-income households and start to create additional cost burdening and prices folks out of the market for the Vancouver UGA.”

The recommendation, considering that a major goal of the study is to probe housing opportunities for residents with low and moderate incomes, caught the attention of several members of the advisory group. But members of the roughly 20-person group, which includes local officials, real estate professionals and representatives of several fields, also acknowledged its necessity.

Phil Wuest, a real estate attorney and member of the advisory committee, noted a “continuum” of residents moving between income levels. He said that housing for those at or above 120-percent area median income doesn’t need to be the focus of the project, but it shouldn’t be ignored, either.

“To the extent we ignore one portion of the housing market, we’re at risk of undersupply in that area, and we could gum up how the rest of the market works,” Wuest said.

The advisory group plans to meet several more times the rest of this year. Consultants will prepare an action plan, based on a consensus from the advisory group, this fall before the county Council considers any policy changes.

At its next meeting, the group will hear an analysis of housing policies, zoning and regulations in the study area. Advisory group members noted on Tuesday the need to view the study area in the context of the county’s wider housing challenges.

“This UGA is not an island of itself,” said Mark Maggiora, executive director of the Americans Building Community. “We’ve got to create a strategy that fits for the whole county.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter

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