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News / Business / Clark County Business

‘We’re still a long way off’: Vancouver closing gap between housing, residents’ needs; more work to be done

Availability of low-income housing shows slight increase

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: March 26, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
Construction is underway on housing for low-income families. This property in Vancouver&rsquo;s Rose Village neighborhood is owned by the nonprofit Community Roots Collaborative, which helped the city&rsquo;s affordable housing numbers grow in 2022 with its Fruit Valley Terrace community.
Construction is underway on housing for low-income families. This property in Vancouver’s Rose Village neighborhood is owned by the nonprofit Community Roots Collaborative, which helped the city’s affordable housing numbers grow in 2022 with its Fruit Valley Terrace community. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A new report shows a slight increase in availability of low-income housing in the Vancouver-Portland metro area.

The number of affordable units available for every 100 low-income households increased to 25 in 2022, up from 22 the previous year, according to the report from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The Vancouver-Portland metro area has less available affordable housing than the Seattle-metro area, according to the report.

Although the numbers increased between 2021 and 2022, they are still lower than pre-pandemic years. Vancouver-Portland had 27 affordable units per 100 people in 2018 and 25 in 2017, according to past reports.

“We’re still a long way off,” said Duana Ricks, a low-income renter in Vancouver.

Closing the gap

The report’s figures reflect projects completed in 2022, including Columbia Heights Apartments. PeaceHealth and Mercy Housing Northwest developed that complex, which includes 69 units for low-income residents.

Also that year, Vancouver Housing Authority opened Miles Terrace Apartments in downtown Vancouver for low-income seniors. And Community Roots Collaborative opened Fruit Valley Terrace — 21 permanent tiny homes located in Vancouver’s Fruit Valley neighborhood.

The nonprofit recently opened other affordable options for formerly homeless residents at 3600 O St. One side of the property houses men. Next door, a cottage cluster under construction will house families and the nonprofit hopes to cap rent at $760, including utilities.

“C-Roots is honored to be able to contribute to the affordable housing here in Vancouver. We have a niche in that we can use smaller pieces of property and construct low-income housing,” Executive Director Peggy Sheehan said.

By late summer, the nonprofit will have housed 45 households leaving homelessness, Sheehan said. Community Roots Collaborative is applying for funding for its next project, which will house another 30 households.

Affordable-housing construction received a boost from a Vancouver levy approved by voters in 2016. The levy raised $42 million through 2023. It will provide an estimated $100 million from 2024 to 2033.

‘Living on eggshells’

Despite this progress, some low-income residents still wobble on the edge.

According to the report, Portland-Vancouver has only 19,102 affordable available rental units but 76,074 extremely low-income renter households.

Ricks, a single mother, is one of them. Ricks is also a disabled veteran who was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant in October.

She survives off of her veterans pension of $1,140 a month. She pays $765 for rent as a Section 8 housing voucher recipient. After utilities and other necessities, including groceries, she doesn’t have much left. Ricks had been studying business but gave it up because of her tight budget.

“We’re forced to choose between rent or going to school,” Ricks said. “The housing voucher that has created stability, but when I keep getting faced with rental increases each year, it makes it hard. You feel like you’re living on eggshells.”

When Ricks’ rent increased, she felt stuck. Although the rental hikes are a blow to her budget, she can’t find anywhere cheaper.

Ricks is Indigenous. According to the report, American Indian or Alaska Native Americans make up 9 percent of extremely low-income renters, yet are only 2 percent of Washington’s total population.

“Being low-income is a full-time job,” Ricks said. “You’re jumping through hoops, and advocating for yourself. You’ve got to fight for everything you’ve got ”

According to the report, housing costs burdened 86 percent of Vancouver’s low-income residents — which means they spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

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Even middle-income renters are pinched. The report found 24 percent of them were affected by housing prices.

“Even with a strong economy and stabilizing rents, homelessness has increased to its highest level ever recorded, and the lowest-income and most marginalized households are at risk,” National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel said.

The local data mirrors Washington’s. The state has one of the largest gaps between low-income households and the number of affordable homes, with 28 units for every 100 extremely low-income households, according to the report.

Renters who work full time (35 percent), seniors (30 percent) and people with disabilities (22 percent) make up a large proportion of those impacted by the shortage, according to the report.

“We know what works to end housing insecurity and homelessness. What we lack is the political will to invest in these solutions at the scale needed,” Yentel said.

The report pushes for lawmakers to commit to rental stabilization and increase hourly wages and housing assistance resources. The Legislature earlier this year rejected rent stabilization proposals, which opponents argued would decrease the supply of affordable housing.

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.