Low-income renters across Vancouver continue to face a housing gap, though some silver linings are on the horizon.
That’s detailed in a recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition that captured a midpandemic snapshot in 2021 that showed that only 22 affordable homes existed for every 100 low-income renters in Vancouver.
The report underscores data from across the United States, emphasizing the needs of individuals classified as “extremely low income” or who spend more than 30 percent of their area median income on rent.
“Our goal for Washington is 100 percent affordable homes per person. Everybody should have the opportunity to live in a home they can afford that is safe and in a community that provides the amenities that keep us all healthy, and near (your) community. One hundred percent affordable homes should be the goal for all of Washington,” said Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Not enough affordable homes
Vancouver, which is grouped in with Portland and Hillsboro, Ore., in the report, has 87,400 people considered “extremely low-income renter households.” In the metro area, 79 percent of renter households are also considered cost-burdened by the excessive rent prices.
Vancouver mirrors a statewide trend of lack of affordable, accessible homes for its lowest-income residents. Across Washington, there is an average of 28 affordable homes per 100 people, and 242,726 people are considered extremely low-income.
Rental prices are said to burden 75 percent of Washington residents.
Thomas said that when people are forced to leave their homes (often called economic eviction) due to the financial stress of high rent prices, it led to higher rates of homelessness.
“(Lack of affordable homes) can lead to couch surfing, which is the precursor to unsheltered homelessness. It can lead to people trying to survive in their cars — it’s devastating. We simply don’t have enough affordable housing supply,” said Thomas.
She added that this year’s Washington Legislature is highly focused on for-profit, private market supply and less on affordable housing supply that people at risk of homelessness need.
“The for-profit market is not going to build more affordable homes. It has to be subsidized by state, local and federal dollars,” said Thomas.
The report also calls for more federal investments in the preservation of the affordable housing stock, as well as more Housing Choice Vouchers and stabilization funds for renters who experience an unexpected housing instability.
Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a news release that the report highlighted the staggering gap between affordable homes and low-income residents. The pandemic also made the gap wider.
“As this year’s gap report makes clear, extremely low-income renters are facing a staggering shortage of affordable and available homes,” said Yentel. “In the wake of the pandemic, federal housing investments are more critical than ever for sustaining our communities and helping low-income people thrive.”
The report also highlighted that the housing shortage disproportionately impacts renters of color. Yentel pointed to U.S. House Republicans threatening to cut funding for “lifeline” programs to low-income households.
“Balancing the national budget must not be done on the backs of our nation’s lowest-income and most marginalized people and families,” she said.
Despite the numbers continuing the narrative that Vancouver needs more affordable units across the board, the numbers show a very slight increase in affordable units from 2019, when 21 units were available per 100 people.
Yet the numbers are a decrease from other years, when there were 27 affordable rental homes in 2018 per 100 people and 25 in 2017. Data was not available for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The numbers in the report leave a two-year gap for Vancouver. Since 2021, Vancouver has made advancements toward providing more affordable options for residents. In 2022, Miles Terrace opened for low-income seniors, and the Fourth Plain Commons project is underway. And more, like the Golden Tent redevelopment near Vancouver Mall, have been proposed.
Vancouver is also showing promising steps with the recent passing of the Affordable Housing Levy, a property tax increase that will renew the fund for 10 more years.
There are also some silver linings on the statewide level. While multiple House bills to provide more rental assistance or affordable options for residents were killed on the floor, others have gained traction and point to a potential future with more housing that renters can afford.
House Bill 1628 would add a new category to the state’s real estate tax rate of 4 percent for properties priced over $5 million. Thomas expects movement on the bill soon. Both House and Senate budgets include Gov. Jay Inslee’s comprehensive proposal of $4 billion to build more affordable housing and shelters as part of the State Housing Trust Fund. If passed by the Legislature, the measure would require voter approval. This legislative session is slated to end April 23.
But Thomas said another “step forward” for Washington is that lawmakers are saying enough is enough.
“Another silver lining is the impatience amongst lawmakers. We’ve got a lot of young, new lawmakers who are making their voices heard, and I think the newer lawmakers will become the leadership in the next couple of years,” said Thomas.
Editor’s note: Incorrect years were given for the scope of the report. The years have been updated.
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