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News / Clark County News

Vancouver voters will decide future of Affordable Housing Fund on Tuesday

Proposition 3 would increase city's current property tax levy

By Kelsey Turner, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 12, 2023, 6:00am

In Tuesday’s special election, Vancouver voters will decide whether to renew the city’s Affordable Housing Fund for another 10 years. Ballots have already arrived in the mailboxes of registered voters who live within Vancouver’s city limits.

Proposition 3 would increase the current property tax levy sustaining the fund from 18 cents to about 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value. The levy would cost Vancouver homeowners an estimated $150 per year for a home with a $500,000 assessed value. The cost could decrease as the city’s assessed property value grows.

The levy would raise $100 million over 10 years starting in 2024 for affordable-housing development and preservation, temporary shelters, homelessness prevention, and rental and homeownership assistance.

Voters must mail their ballots with a postmark no later than Feb. 14, or drop their ballots at an official ballot-deposit location or the Elections Office, 1408 Franklin St., Vancouver, by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

As of Friday, the Clark County Elections Office had received 37,165 returned ballots, representing 20.42 percent of eligible voters, for Tuesday’s election. Also on the ballot are school levies in Vancouver, Washougal and Woodland.

Clark County Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber estimates voter turnout will reach up to 40 percent. “What we find out in February and April elections is they tend to have lower turnout,” Garber said. Last February’s special election had a ballot return of 29.86 percent.

The current levy, approved by voters in 2016, raises $42 million over seven years from 2017 to 2023. In its first six years, the levy has funded the development or preservation of 1,061 affordable units and 450 shelter beds and has assisted 1,409 households with services, according to city data.

The levy replacement would continue to fund development, preservation and services. It also includes a new homeownership piece, using 5 percent of funds to help very low-income people buy homes.

Opponents of the levy point to the worsening homelessness rates and increased housing costs in Vancouver, despite the levy having been in place since 2017. They question whether higher taxes are an effective solution to these issues.

Proponents argue that the Affordable Housing Fund has prevented homelessness for many individuals by developing and preserving shelters and housing units. They highlight the fund’s ability to leverage other funding sources. Every dollar spent by the city fund is matched by about eight dollars in state or federal funding, enabling projects that have cost a total of $284.4 million.

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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.

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Columbian staff reporter