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News / Clark County News

High rents have tenants on edge: 25% of Vancouver renters spend more than half their income on rent

Studies link rising rents to homelessness

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 2, 2024, 6:03am

Bonnie Waser’s green Chevrolet Malibu sits in front of her mobile home in Vancouver. The 62-year-old can put only a bit of gas into the car at a time.

This is just one of the ways she has had to get by since her latest rent increase.

She’s among the 25 percent of Vancouver renters who spend more than half their income on rent. Half of renters locally and nationwide spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, according to a recent Harvard University study.

Waser pays about $700 for the land on which her manufactured home sits. Her entire Social Security payment goes toward her rent.

She had to return to work part time at a local grocery store to afford her other bills and necessities such as groceries.

“I wish I could retire, but I just can’t,” she said.

Numerous studies point to rising rents and cost of living contributing to homelessness. One study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, shows that every $100 rent hike leads to at least a 9 percent increase in homelessness.

In Clark County, more than 9,000 people experienced homelessness in 2022, according to Council for the Homeless data.

Nationwide, about 653,000 Americans reported experiencing homelessness in January 2023, according to the Harvard report. That’s up roughly 12 percent from January 2022, the largest single-year increase in the American homeless population on record, according to the report.

Waser said that if her rent keeps going up, she will be priced out of her home. She said she would try to work more hours, but her various health conditions would make that difficult. Another option, she said, would be to move in with her mother, who is in her 90s.

For now, she is pinching her pennies wherever she can.

“I can’t get groceries a bunch at a time. I have to spread it out. My freezer used to be full of meat. Now, it isn’t,” Waser said. “I have electricity, my phone, my car payment, and maintain my house and car. It can get pretty tough.”

Rent-stabilization and rent-ceiling policies have a decadeslong, polarizing history in Washington. This year, lawmakers and housing advocates attempted to resurrect proposals that would limit rent increases.

Renters argued that increases are squeezing them out of housing and a limit would give them more stability.

Senate Bill 5961, which would have limited rent increases to 15 percent a year, died in committee Wednesday. Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, cast the deciding “no” vote, dismaying housing advocates and many renters. Property-management companies applauded her decision. They maintain that rent stabilization offers only short-term relief to renters but has the long-term consequence of reducing the stock of rental units.

The House Housing Committee voted to forward HB 2114 to the House Appropriations Committee, which will consider the bill within the next couple of weeks.

Waser sat at her kitchen table in early January, a Columbian newspaper beside her open to an article about other seniors who are struggling to pay their rent.

“If rent keeps increasing,” Waser said, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

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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