Clark County is moving forward with its plan to address the affordable-housing crunch within Vancouver’s urban growth area.
Despite some reservations, the Clark County Council on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with recommendations outlined in the Housing Options Study and Action Plan.
“The main proposal of this study is to identify ways to encourage development of affordable housing in the Vancouver area and in a manner that creates a variety of housing choices and a variety of housing types, including cost levels,” Community Planning Director Oliver Orjiako said during the meeting.
Orjiako noted that the plan also includes strategies, timelines for implementation and options for funding some of the recommendations. The plan does not identify specific parcels or properties for rezoning or land-use changes.
“These are strategies to help us look at opportunities and remove barriers related to housing choice and opportunities,” Orjiako added. Chair Karen Bowerman said one barrier she wants addressed is the amount of time it takes for builders and developers to get permits.
The action plan is broken into short-term, midterm and long-term strategies and recommendations. Some of those strategies and recommendation can be put in place immediately if the council chooses. Others would require a separate legislative approval process.
By focusing on the Vancouver urban growth area, the county will be able to explore housing types such as duplex, triplex and quadriplex apartments; condominiums; and other types of multi-family homes that will have access to urban services, said Jacqui Kamp, program manager for Community Planning.
Kamp noted that the county planning commission recommended approving the study plan and recommendations during its April 21 meeting, and it recommended that staff begin working to implement the short-term strategies.
“The focus on the short-term strategies is to encourage the momentum of the project and accomplish an immediate actionable item that could be accomplished within a year,” Kamp told the council.
Many of the strategies — whether short-, mid- or long-term — focused on increasing housing density to encourage development of a variety of housing types and sizes. They also include strategies to meet the needs of middle- to extremely low-income households with access to transportation, commercial services, schools and parks.
Public weighs in
The council’s vote followed a public hearing on the recommendations that saw a few county residents offering comment in person and virtually.
“We are in a housing crisis, and I would encourage the council to be as permissive as possible when adopting the action plan and not overly dilute these crucial policies,” said Justin Wood of the Clark County Association of Realtors. “The concerns of crowding and quality of life are valid, but you, as policymakers, can modulate these policies to work for our community.”
Stephanie Ryals said she and her husband have been looking for a home to buy since 2019 but have been priced out of the market.
“The housing inventory has been severely constrained since I started working in real estate in 2018, and it has not gotten any better with COVID,” Ryals said. “What we could afford at the start of COVID is not even in the market anymore. So we are forced renters.”
While there are steps the county can take to address housing, allowing smaller lot sizes and reducing the number of parking spaces required were problematic for real estate agent and county resident Michael Harding.
“If we have smaller lots, where are our kids supposed to play?” he asked. “I have grandkids that live in this community. If my kids were to move to one of these new developments, where are the kids supposed to play if they have smaller lots?”
Harding said he has been tracking home sales, noting that 42 homes were sold in Clark County in the prior week for more than $700,000. Of those, 29 were priced above $800,000 and approximately 13 sold for more than $1 million.
During an earlier council meeting, Bowerman said she had lived in a community that tried to address a housing shortage by increasing allowed density. But it left people without places to park and created tightly packed neighborhoods. She expressed those same concerns Tuesday.
“We need to balance what we are doing so questions like ‘Where are the kids supposed to play?’ really have an answer even though not everyone, we know, is looking for backyard space,” Bowerman said. “Finding that balance, not just of affordability but of the variety of housing that is available, is so incredibly important.”
Councilor Julie Olson reminded those in attendance that approving the plan wouldn’t mean making immediate changes; it would just allow further discussion, leaving details to be ironed out later.
“I don’t want to get caught up in the weeds when we have ample, ample time to get into the weeds on all of these recommendations as we move forward,” Olson said.
Now that the council has approved the plan, county staff will begin working on the short-term recommendations, determining what is needed to implement them and scheduling a work session for the council to review them. The council would need to take formal action to put the recommendations into effect.
More information about the housing study and recommendations can be found at https://clark.wa.gov/community-planning/housing-options-study-and-action-plan.