Looking around Vancouver, it is tempting to believe that little progress has been made in reducing homelessness. But without an affordable housing levy that has been in place for seven years, the situation would be more pronounced.
The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends voting “yes” on Proposition 3 on the Feb. 14 ballot. The measure would establish a property tax levy to replace a seven-year affordable housing tax that is about to expire.
The existing levy has had a notable impact. According to city officials, the fund has led to the development or preservation of more than 1,000 affordable housing units during its first six years. Working through local nonprofits, the fund also has provided assistance for 1,654 needy households.
The fund, approved by voters in 2016, was designed to raise $42 million over seven years. The city reports that $35.8 million has been distributed, and that total is expected to reach $42 million by the end of this year.
Prop. 3 would renew the fund for 10 years at a higher rate – up to $10 million a year. And legitimate questions can be raised about whether that would be effective.
An opposition statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet states, “This new levy expands upon that same failed approach with even higher taxes over longer periods.” And Steve Smith, a retired business owner who opposes the levy, told The Columbian: “I’m not against help. I’m against doing it this way, through taxes. They continue to make the same mistakes, continue to throw money at it, and money is not the solution.”
Indeed, reducing homelessness requires more than the spending of taxpayer money on housing. Improved mental health care, improved addiction treatment and robust social services are necessary for helping people escape a cycle of homelessness. And despite the existence of the Affordable Housing Fund, the issue has become noticeably more pronounced in Vancouver.
But even if homeless people find help and resolve in dealing with health issues or addiction problems, even if they reach a point where stability is possible, we are left with a nagging question: Where will they live?
While our community must address the underlying issues that lead to homelessness, we also must address the housing crisis that not only has left many of our neighbors without shelter but also has many others on the brink of being unhoused. Various data in recent years has indicated that Vancouver has an extremely low rate of rental vacancies, which incentivizes landlords to increase prices; and a study last year by WalletHub, a personal finance website, ranked Vancouver among the worst cities to rent a home – largely because of short supply and high leasing rates.
Increasing the housing stock must be viewed as a pillar of reducing homelessness, and the city’s property tax levy has eased that problem – even if it hasn’t solved it.
Of course, asking residents to pay more in taxes is never easy – and often is ineffective. The new levy would raise the tax from about 18 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to 30 cents. For a home with an assessed value of $500,000, that would increase property taxes about $150 a year.
That can be burdensome, especially for residents feeling the continuing impact of high inflation rates. But a collective community response to the issue is an effective way to slow the growth of homelessness.
The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a “yes” vote on Proposition 3 in the city of Vancouver.