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News / Clark County News

Survey: Homelessness, housing most important to Clark County residents

Affordable rent, ‘middle housing,’ walkable neighborhoods cited by respondents

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 21, 2023, 6:05am

Clark County needs more affordable housing, according to residents.

A recent survey by the Department of Commerce and Puget Sound Regional Council underscored that housing, cost of living, and homelessness are the top concerns Washington residents want addressed.

Researchers surveyed about 6,000 respondents and included perspectives from 12 counties. The canvass’s purpose was to explore Washington citizens’ attitudes and housing desires.

Other issues highlighted by survey participants were: public safety, climate change/environment, health care, employment, taxes, education, racism, and illegal immigration.

In Clark County, residents voiced their priorities: middle housing, walkable neighborhoods and affordable rent.

“There are minimal rent assistance resources in my area, Vancouver/Clark County. There needs to be more long-term rent assistance stability programs for single parents, people really putting forth the effort to better their situation,” said one respondent who identified as an Indigenous woman between 35-45 years old.

“I believe that even after someone homeless is housed, they need wrap-around services for at least a year to stabilize. … Every person and situation will differ,” the respondent said.

Overall, among the 13 median responses, housing costs/rent and homelessness tied for first place, with 39 percent of respondents indicating it was a chief concern. Cost of living was a close second with 34 percent of survey participants.

“It did surprise me a little bit but not totally, because we obviously know that homelessness is a huge problem, and it’s driven by the lack of housing and decades of under-building. There is just not enough housing at all, and affordable (housing) for all incomes,” Penny Thomas, the Department of Commerce public information officer, said to The Columbian.

Seventy-five percent of respondents said “it costs too much to buy a home.” Similarly, 33 percent said people they know are affected by rising home prices. In Western Washington, where Clark County was classified, 30 percent of survey takers said that they had to pick up an additional source of income to afford a house; 24 percent said they had to get a roommate and 8 percent faced eviction or foreclosure.

“We know that (affordable housing and homelessness) was a huge concern … but the overwhelming response to it being a top issue compared to a whole lot of other things is really impressive and sobering,” said Shane Hope, director of development services.

Right now, Washington’s median home value is just over $512,000, according to Neighborhoodscout. In Clark County, residents have to pay an average of $525,000 to buy a home, according to Rocket Homes estimates — a nearly 12 percent increase from the prior year.

“This survey shows that across the state, people clearly recognize the direct correlations between lack of available housing, housing costs and overall quality of life,” Commerce Director Lisa Brown said in the press release. “Creating more types of housing accessible for all income levels strengthens communities, and we are working with local governments and their public and private partners to make that happen.”

Washington residents believe there should be more housing options, including so-called “middle housing” in residential neighborhoods. Middle housing refers to units like duplexes, cottage clusters, and townhomes and is intended to fill the gap between low- and high-income housing options. Clark County’s subgroup of respondents put emphasis on the importance of having walkable neighborhoods near town centers, as well as more affordable and available housing options.

One survey respondent from Clark County said that people in her area need more “safe, affordable housing” near places of work, schools and community resources.

“It was also interesting to see the fair amount of interest in people for all different reasons who want different housing types and more diverse housing types and more affordable for every person that is a part of the affluent (group of people),” said Hope.

In the survey, homelessness outpaced other issues like transportation or racism by nearly four times.

According to the 2022 point-in-time count, 1,197 people were experiencing homelessness in 2022. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark County did not undertake a traditional count in 2021. But in 2020, 916 people were tallied on the single-night head count.

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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.