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News / Business / Clark County Business

Battle Ground council rejects partnership to almost double amount of affordable housing in the city

Eaton Park Apartments, a 95-unit multifamily housing project, would have been built in conjunction with Vancouver Housing Authority

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 3, 2024, 6:04am

The Battle Ground City Council has voted 4-3 against allowing Vancouver Housing Authority to work with a private developer to create a project that would almost double the amount of affordable housing being planned in the city.

“I respect the people that voted no, but I’m astounded that, on one hand, we beg for affordable housing, but then, when we’re given the chance to do it by a developer that has invested so much in our community, we kill it time and time again,” said council member Adrian Cortes, who voted in favor of the project. “It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it’s shameful.”

Principal Properties, a Vancouver-based property development and management company, has been trying to work with the Battle Ground City Council to build Eaton Park — a 95-unit multifamily housing project along Southwest 15th Avenue near Eaton Boulevard.

Principal Properties originally proposed to make about 20 percent of the units affordable in exchange for an eight-year property tax exemption from the city. Rising construction costs necessitated it, said Tirus “T.J.” Fontenette, managing principal for the company. But the city council voted against it in October, citing concerns about less tax revenue to fund Clark County Fire District 3. The fire district provides emergency services in Battle Ground.

So Principal Properties came back to the city council on Monday, this time asking for permission to work with Vancouver Housing Authority, a quasi-government agency that builds affordable housing in Clark County, to build Eaton Park.

As a public agency, Vancouver Housing Authority doesn’t pay property taxes on its holdings. However, Principal Properties agreed to pay Fire District 3’s yearly levy so it wouldn’t lose funding.

Through the partnership with Vancouver Housing Authority, all 95 units would be affordable for a person making between $39,500 and $63,150 a year. That’s the income bracket that needs the most affordable housing in Battle Ground, according to county data.

Residents in Eaton Park’s one-, two- and three-bedroom units, located just west of Principal Properties’ Alder Pointe Apartments, would have access to air conditioning and a fitness center.

Vancouver Housing Authority has two other properties in Battle Ground. Both have waitlists of more than 500 people, according to Victor Caesar, chief real estate officer at Vancouver Housing Authority.

The average rent for an apartment in Battle Ground is $1,546, according to the listing site RentCafe. That makes up half the average person’s income in Battle Ground, which is $37,287, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Experts consider housing to be affordable if it costs no more than a third of a person’s income.

Battle Ground, like other cities in Clark County, has been looking for ways to increase its affordable housing stock. It developed a Housing Action Plan in 2021, which highlighted housing needs and identified ways to fill them, including having developers partner with Vancouver Housing Authority.

But the city council voted against the partnership that would have created Eaton Park.

Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman and council members Tricia Davis and Eric Overholser voted “no.” Cortes, council member Cherish DesRochers and Mayor Troy McCoy voted “yes.” Because council member Victoria Ferrer was absent, her vote counted as a “no.”

Fontenette was surprised the council voted against the project. He thought he had addressed council members’ concerns about the fire district.

“That’s disappointing,” he said. “I do think that affordable housing is something that’s on everybody’s radar. It’s talked about a lot, but at the end of the day, everybody’s going to have to go ahead and put something into that reality.”

Council members said little about why the project was voted down. None of the council members who voted “no” responded to The Columbian’s inquiries by deadline Tuesday.

Bowman said he has concerns about approving another project exempt from property taxes. Vancouver Housing Authority plans to break ground on a project called Weaver Creek Commons in spring 2025 that will provide 100 units of affordable housing in Battle Ground.

“Everyone will jump to — I’ve heard it already, I hear it all the time — the best thing you could do is put apartments next to Walmart because they say everybody steals from the apartments. I don’t buy that,” Bowman said.

“I don’t think they steal because they live in apartments … people steal because they’re getting away with it, right? And so that’s a completely different thing. But that’s the perception that people have. So when we say now we’re going to go pump in another 95 units over there, and not only that, but we’re going to make it tax free forever, that’s the battle that we have sometimes.”

The Eaton Park project isn’t dead yet, Fontenette said, but Principal Properties needs to reevaluate the implications of the city council’s decision. It’s also difficult to say whether the decision will impact the development of Remy Heights, another housing project planned next to Eaton Park.

“We can’t fail if we don’t give up,” Fontenette 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.