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News / Business / Clark County Business

State: Clark County needs 100,000 more houses, apartments or other units

Commerce Dept. projections look at goals over 20 years

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 6, 2023, 6:02am

It is no secret that Clark County mirrors the statewide trend of not having enough homes to house everyone. But how many homes will actually be needed to curb the shortage?

To meet the statewide goal of building 1.1 million new homes by 2044, Clark County would need to boost its housing development by more than 100,000 houses, apartments or other dwelling units over the next 20 years, according to projections.

Figures estimated by the Washington State Department of Commerce break down the suggested number of units each county should accommodate in the next 20 years based on population predictions. On a state level, Washington is suggested to produce 50,000 more homes yearly, with a large focus on affordable units intended for low-income residents.

The projection is part of the newly established requirements under the Growth Management Act. The act underscores that cities and counties must accommodate and plan for housing growth at all income levels. In 2021, the state Legislature redesigned how communities must draft their housing game plans with House Bill 1220.

Beyond supplying housing predictions for counties, the Commerce department is working on county levels to provide guidance to local governments on how cities can work together to allocate the needs based on services, infrastructure capacity, and other factors.

“We have to make sure that there’s adequate zoning to allow enough housing at all income levels, along with considering incentives, funding or other tools,” said Anne Fritzel, planning and housing manager for the Department of Commerce.

The projections in the report are based on what the report calls each county’s medium population growth estimates, as opposed to higher growth or lower growth.

The figures do not say how many homes should be developed but rather what is needed in specific communities to house growing populations. When redesigning housing plans, counties could choose a higher or lower population target.

In Clark County, where the median sale price for a home is upwards of $500,000, with half of sales priced above that amount and half below, the county should accommodate 103,475 more homes, according to projections.

The report also highlights how communities should plan for housing needs for residents of all income levels, including emergency housing, permanent supportive housing and people experiencing homelessness or another type of housing insecurity.

“There really is not enough housing (on the market) for the lower (income) levels. We knew that about half the housing needed is for the lower levels — we don’t need to build 50 percent of our new housing for the lower levels — but we do need to make sure that there’s adequate housing … but there’s also significant needs at the highest level (for more housing),” said Fritzel.

According to census data, 9 percent of Clark County residents live below the poverty line.

The projections estimate that more than 35,000 homes should be developed for people making less than 50 percent of Clark County’s median income, and 34,658 more homes for people making 120 percent of the county’s median income. About 3,800 emergency shelter beds are also needed.

The figures predict the need for roughly 91,000 more emergency housing units statewide to ensure that those in unpredictable housing situations have a safety net to fall to. And the report calls for more diversity in housing options.

“Seventy percent of land is (planned) for single-family housing, and that is really only affordable to upper-income segments. So we do need to zone for a lot more higher-density housing to allow enough density to allow affordable units for low-income households,” said Fritzel.

Counties will need to update their housing plans and policies in the next few years. Currently, Clark County is proposing a list of housing code amendments in its Housing Options Study and Action Plan that would develop more affordable homes in the area for all income levels.

“We need to change how we’re planning for housing to make it more affordable and within the means of our population. Most of our housing stock is for single family (units) … that many people cannot afford. So we (have to) build housing that’s affordable and in urban locations so that they can have ready access to services,” said Laura Hodgson, a senior planner for the Commerce department.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.