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March 3, 2024

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Clark County rents are down, vacancies up; news good for renters, but may deter developers

1.1% drop in rental rates biggest decrease in five years; 4.4% of apartment units open

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:
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Construction was in progress this summer on The Broadstone Apartments at the Vancouver waterfront. Construction of apartments may slow down as rents lower and vacancy rates increase.
Construction was in progress this summer on The Broadstone Apartments at the Vancouver waterfront. Construction of apartments may slow down as rents lower and vacancy rates increase. (ELAYNA YUSSEN for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Apartment rents are down and vacancies are up from last year in Clark County — a good sign for renters but a possible deterrent for developers.

According to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research’s apartment market reports, average apartment rents in Clark County decreased by 1.1 percent over the last year.

That may not sound significant, but rents haven’t decreased by that much in at least the past five years, according to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research’s data. The only other time rents decreased during that period was the fourth quarter of 2019, and that was by just 0.2 percent.

Simultaneously, Clark County’s vacancy rate is up by 1 percent from last year, with 4.4 percent of apartment units vacant. That’s still a healthy vacancy rate, according to Terry Wollam, a broker at Wollam and Associates, but it’s also the highest vacancy rate in Clark County in at least five years, according to the data.

This may be surprising, given the demand in the last few years for housing in the county. But developers caught onto that demand and have been building multifamily housing quickly to ride the wave.

The city of Vancouver has received more than double the number of building permit applications for apartments between 2016 and 2022, according to the city’s development dashboard.

Clark County has more than 30,800 existing units, according to the real estate company JLL. In addition to those units, there are 1,334 units under construction, 2,166 finished units in the process of being leased and more than 5,600 proposed units.

To Wollam, rents being down and vacancy rates being up is a sign that development is catching up with demand.

“We’re seeing the play-out of all those units being created and how that’s translating to having more units available and helping for rents to stabilize,” he said.

Rents are going down because of basic supply and demand, Wollam said — more units than there are people filling them means people have more options for housing.

Increased housing and decreased rents were the goals of the city of Vancouver’s multifamily tax exemption program, he said, which gives developers of multifamily housing, such as apartments, tax exemptions for including affordable housing or contributing to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund.

However, the slowdown may deter developers.

“You’ll see some projects won’t move forward because of it. Some (developers) will just take a longer phased approach to constructing projects in the future,” Wollam said.

These trends in combination with high interest rates and construction costs around Clark County “exhaust” the situation, Wollam said.

Decreased rent and increased vacancies aren’t something that Wollam projects will be long term. However, it is something he can see occurring for the next two years.

“You kind of see pendulum swings,” Wollam said. “We’ll see rates will stabilize and soften and then, unfortunately, then you’ll see a real slowdown in construction.”

But as the population continues to grow, the region will once again lack inventory, he said.

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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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