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Aug. 14, 2022

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Vancouver looks at asking voters to renew property tax levy for low-income housing

Council must decide on ballot, rate as current fund set to expire 2023

The Columbian
Published:

The city’s largest community resource to address low-income housing will expire at the end of 2023 unless voters agree to renew it.

In 2016, Vancouver voters approved a property tax levy to collect $42 million over seven years to fund affordable housing initiatives — about $6 million annually. In its first five years, the Affordable Housing Fund has contributed to the production of 501 affordable housing units, the preservation of 321 units and provided housing assistance to 1,144 households, according to a staff report.

Now, the need for these investments is greater than before.

To close the city’s housing deficit within 10 years, there must be an annual increase of housing production of at least 2,500 new units, including 750 new affordable housing units, said Samantha Whitley, city housing programs manager. A renewed fund would focus on very low-income households, those earning 50 percent or less of the area median income, and create homeownership programs emphasizing home repairs.

At a workshop Monday, staff presented ballot measure options for the Vancouver City Council’s consideration, three of which would ask voters to renew the fund at a greater amount.

Advisory committee members who are leading the levy renewal process recommended pursuing the launch of a larger fund based upon the current fund’s success, said Alishia Topper, Clark County treasurer and committee member. The Affordable Housing Fund has leveraged an additional $250 million in capital from federal, state local and private sources through investing $35.25 million in various projects.

Tax considerations

All four ballot measure options foster the development of a significant fund. But council members must ponder how much the tax should be and at what rate it is assessed.

The options are:

  • Extend the current seven-year levy for seven more years.
  • Offer a renewal at a higher rate for the maximum allowable 10 years.
  • Renew the levy at $10 million annually for 10 years.
  • Propose the maximum allowable levy rate for 10 years.

In the same order, each plan would collect 16 cents, 22 cents, 27 cents or 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation in 2024.

The committee’s preferred scenario – restoring the levy for a higher rate over a longer period – would collect about $8 million annually, costing average households about $109 a year. With that amount of funding, city staff reported that it could create 1,920 units, provide 2,000 households with rental assistance and support 444 shelter beds.

On the other hand, a majority of council members supported a more aggressive approach to collect $10 million annually for 10 years. This levy would create 2,400 housing units, supply rental assistance to 2,500 homes and support 556 shelter beds.

“It’s not anywhere close to the maximum allowed and it’s still not even double the original,” councilor Kim Harless said. “I think we go big and bold because it’s the crisis that we’re in and (the fund) is very favored by our community.”

Councilor Sarah Fox was adamantly opposed to the maximum levy option, which would impose a 50-cent tax bump, because it’s asking too much of those who are already struggling. Council member Bart Hansen agreed that the 10/10 option would be ideal for the community but shared his hesitation on the likelihood of it passing.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle advocated for more research to be done on offering incentives to landlords to retrofit their rentals. She added that these improvements further the city’s climate action goals, such as installing heat pumps or insulation.

Although the original Affordable Housing Fund succeeded as a key source for low-income housing, community members shared concerns with the advisory committee. The concerns included inflation, other tax and ballot measures and growing interest rates that increase borrowing costs.

Staff anticipate creating a draft ballot measure to present to the Vancouver City Council in September. The advisory committee recommends presenting the measure to voters in February 2023 so it can be rerun in a later election the same year if it fails.

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