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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County Council pushes to provide more ‘middle housing,’ aiming to increase access to homeownership

Clark County population grew by 2 percent between 2020 and 2022

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 18, 2024, 6:09am
2 Photos
Construction workers hold a piece of siding in place while building houses along Northeast 138th Avenue in east Vancouver.
Construction workers hold a piece of siding in place while building houses along Northeast 138th Avenue in east Vancouver. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

As part of a long effort to create a greater variety of housing options with potential for smaller, more affordable homes, the Clark County Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to revise rules governing residential development.

The rules apply to housing in Vancouver’s urban growth area, which is outside of city limits and under the county’s jurisdiction, and were recommended by the county’s 2022 Housing Options Study and Action Plan.

The plan recommended reducing minimum lot sizes and allowing smaller housing units. The changes come as part of the county’s push to provide more so-called “middle housing” — dwellings that are in between apartments and single-family homes, including accessary dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, townhomes and cottage clusters (smaller homes clustered on a single plot of land). The goal is to increase residents’ access to homeownership as Clark County’s population grows and housing prices skyrocket.

Clark County’s population grew by 2 percent between 2020 and 2022. In the past year, the median sale price of a Clark County home has also increased by 2 percent to $510,000, according to Regional Multiple Listing Service reports.

The new county rules make it easier to build accessary dwelling units, allow up to two 1,000-square-foot ADUs on lots with single-family homes, expand the maximum amount of land that can be covered by buildings on lots in some zones and eliminate maximum lot coverage standards for cottage housing developments.

Councilors had some concerns about how denser housing could increase the number of cars parked on streets. Before the ordinance, narrow lots were required to provide 2½ parking spaces per home. The new rules require two spaces per home and one shared space, which can be located on the street, per three homes. However, the council decided to go forward with the ordinance anyway.

“Things can be changed off in the future,” Councilor Sue Marshall said. “We should not delay adopting this.”

Although the changes will make housing more affordable for some, middle housing is geared toward people able to spend $2,250 to $2,700 a month.

“It’s less likely that these are housing solutions that are going to really target lower-income households, especially when we talk about new construction that just doesn’t come in at low prices,” county consultant Elizabeth Decker of JET Planning said.

The second phase of the plan will focus on multifamily housing and affordable housing for people with low incomes.

Clark County needs 100,000 more units of housing by 2044, according to a state report. That includes housing affordable for people of all income ranges.

“We need homes,” Council Chair Gary Medvigy said. “We need low-cost homes. We need small homes. We need midsize homes and thousands of units.”

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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.