Voters show support for Vancouver’s affordable housing levy

VANCOUVER — Voters in Vancouver showed support for the city’s affordable housing levy, Proposition 1, in yesterday’s General Election.

As of the last ballot count, the yes votes for Vancouver’s Prop 1 were leading the no votes by nearly 15 points, with more than 57 percent in support of the levy.

Katie Archer, campaign manager for the non-partisan Bring Vancouver Home campaign advocating for Prop 1 said the levy had no organized opposition but did have a diverse group of supporters, including for-profit housing developers and nonprofit groups that work with Vancouver’s lowest income families and homeless populations.

Vancouver Washington Proposition 1 yes
Clark County voters are showing support for Proposition 1, which attempts to address Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis. The shortage of rental units in the area has created challenges for the homeless population and forced the creation of alternative housing, such as these tiny houses constructed at a halfway house in Vancouver. Photo by Mike Schultz

“Faith-based groups, developers, nonprofits, they’ve all come together,” Archer said last month about the levy’s wide network of proponents.

The Vancouver City Council decided last summer to put Prop 1 on the ballot during the Nov. 8 General Election as an answer to Vancouver’s housing crisis.

“In the last five years, we’ve seen housing  prices here go up by 38.3 percent,” Archer told community members gathered inside Vancouver’s Firstenburg Community Center for a Prop 1 education outreach meeting in mid-October. “There are 17,690 cost-burdened families in Vancouver who are spending more than one-third of their income on rent, and 6,855 families who are spending more than half of their income on rent.”

What’s more, Vancouver has an extremely low number of available rental units on the market, Archer says. In a healthy rental market, five to six percent of units are open and ready to rent. In Vancouver, only two percent of the rentals are empty and Archer says nearly all of those available rentals are priced in the medium-to-high range. For low-income families, seniors on fixed incomes, disabled individuals and even many working class families, Vancouver’s rental market offers very few housing options.

The levy will collect a maximum of $6 million per year for seven years, and will help Vancouver increase its housing supply, prevent homelessness and save existing homes.

The money collected will fund the following:

Administrative Costs: This will eat up 3 percent of the fund and pay for program oversight, monitoring and enforcement.

Increasing Housing Supply: This is where most of the money — 40 percent — would go. Using a competitive grant process, the levy would provide money to the Vancouver Housing Authority and both for-profit and nonprofit developers to build new affordable housing units. For-profit developers would be required to keep the affordable units for 20 years and the contract would tie the affordable-housing requirement to the land, requiring approval by the city council to get out of the agreement. Nonprofit developers would be required to keep the units as affordable housing, with rents adjusted for income, for the next 50 years.

Preventing Homelessness: Thirty percent of the money will help service providers who work with Vancouver’s most impoverished citizens provide rent vouchers and self-sufficiency services like cleaning up credit histories. Some of this money could be used to build more shelters to serve the area’s homeless citizens.

Preserving Existing Homes: An additional 27 percent of the levy funds would provide money through a competitive grant process to help make needed repairs on homes owned by people who earn less than half the average income in Vancouver. For a family of four, that threshold is $36,650 a year or less. This fund would provide a one-percent interest loan for people to make needed repairs on existing homes. The loan would be paid back into the fund when those homeowners sold their property.

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